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Music Review: The Pooka and the Fiddler & Happy as Larry by Colcannon

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In 1960, the great American actor, comic, singer, dancer, and all around performer Danny Kaye released an LP record on which, supported by a group of musicians, he retold six folk tales from around the world. In this, Kaye followed in a long tradition of spoken word stories with music which had begun long before sound-recording was invented and has been continued by many recording artists ever since. Most often, as is the case of Kaye's recordings, the stories held as much appeal for adults as for children. With this recording of two contemporary Irish folk stories, Colcannon follows in the same tradition.

Perhaps because of the unfettered nature sometimes inherent to fiddle music, in story and song the fiddle is often associated with some demon or other, from simple playful spirits to The Devil himself. "The Pooka and the Fiddler" is yet another of these tales, featuring a legendary Irish spirit and a less than competent fiddler. Based in Irish legend but mostly created and written by Mike Balger of Colcannon, this is a delightful tale with some interesting twists and turns.

The Pooka is a fairy or demon from Irish legend found in tales told across Ireland and taking on many forms. The Pooka has been said to appear in in the forms of a large, fierce stallion; a black goat with curling horns; an eagle with massive wingspan; a small, deformed goblin; and a huge, hairy bogeyman, among other forms. In this tale, the Pooka appears primarily in the forms of goats and bogeyman and appears to have a bit of a sense of humour. When a ne'er-do-well, Sean Seamuisin — who is only a passable fiddler (reminds me of the Grasshopper in the tale of The Grasshopper and the Ants) — meets this legendary figure, his life is changed forever.

Mick Bolger's reading is ideal for this sort of story, his intonation and delivery falling somewhere between Edward Everett Horton and Will Millar. Bolger's Irish accent enhances the tale with its lilting tones. This is the sort of BBC Irish accent that's present in the speech but is so subdued that, in a nation that adds subtitles to the English speech of Newfoundlanders and other Canadians, Americans will not get lost among the words. Bolger easily carries the listener along as his fable progresses.

Beneath the words and in the spaces between, there is the always wonderful music of Colcannon playing a series of traditional Irish tunes. This music sets the scene in Ireland and provides the ideal aural setting for this tale.

A more contemporary creation of Bolger's mind, "Happy as Larry" is less grounded in Ireland and could take place in any land which has its own kings and legends. The writing, or perhaps the delivery or both in combination, brings to this tale a different feel than was present in the first. The rhythms and the rhymes and especially some of the vocal inflections sound at times very much like a recitation of one of the fables of Dr. Seuss. At the same time, this story of a poor peasant named Larry and a trombone playing king who wants to take the shirt off Larry's back reads like one of those sweet Oscar Wilde parables.

Again, the music of Colcannon adds interest to this story, this time not with traditional tunes but with original tunes written and played with a very traditional feel.

For the stories or for the music of Colcannon, this CD is well worth owning. It makes a good listen and bears up well under repeated listens. It would make a very interesting addition to any collection of folk tales and traditional music.

Those who may be interested can find additional information about Colcannon at Colcannon's home on the web. There are three songs by Colcannon at MySpace.

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