Here, only a couple of days late for St. Patrick's Day, comes Ireland, the new album from the latest incarnation of the Irish tenors: Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearne, and Karl Scully. If you want traditional Irish music soaked in Guiness or Harp, these tenors are not the Clancy Brothers. If you want mostly traditional Irish music sung with big operatic voices and backed by the Prague FILMharmonic orchestra, this is the disc for you.
While the album does contain some new songs, the bulk of the thirteen cuts honors such iconic fare as "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," "Glocca Morra,” "Toora Loora," and "Danny Boy." These are the songs that have become identified with the Emerald Isle throughout the world; they are the songs that define Ireland and the Irish as much as, if not more so, than leprechauns, the Blarney Stone, and Barry Fitzgerald. They are the songs that will have Irishmen true and Irishmen faux lifting a bit of Jamieson to the old sod.
The menu served here is not merely potatoes. There is the sentimental — and there is nothing like a sweet Irish tenor for sentimentality: you can smell the perfume from the heather as you watch the sun go down on "Galway Bay," knowing that to change it would be like trying to light a penny candle from a star. There is the dramatic — and there is nothing so powerful as the drama in the voice of the true Irish tenor: listen to the building vocals in Bill Whelan's "Lift the Wings." There is the plaintive — as lost love is lamented in "Knocknashee" — and there is no voice so plaintive as that of the bemoaning Irish tenor. There are the rollicking ballads and drinking songs straight out of the local pub — "The Irish Rover," and "Whiskey in the Jar."
There is no question that these are three singers with beautifully trained voices, three tenors who sing with joy and passion, three men who embody the tradition of the grand Irish tenor going back to the legendary John McCormack. Moreover, if you're talking about a song like Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer," a gem in the repertoire of the sentimental, these are the voices that not only do such melodies justice, these are the voices such melodies demand. Is there any other voice that could or should be singing "Danny Boy?" While one might prefer somewhat less lavish production values as a general rule, there is also a sense in which it is only natural that big voices demand big settings. Songs like these were written for these voices.
Although, it is also fair to say that songs like "The Irish Rover," and "Whiskey in the Jar" might well profit from a little less polish. The tenors' versions are certainly pleasant enough, but for many listeners, pleasant really isn't what one wants from songs like these. There is a raucous joy about them that sits more comfortably in the range of the raw and boozy. Sometimes one wants sweets, sometimes bitters. Still, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson's remarks on some indelicacies he found in Paradise Lost, flaws so beautiful, who would wish away.
Since there is a great deal of exquisite solo work on the disc, it would be a good idea to identify the soloist on each individual song. The listener unfamiliar with the individual voices would welcome some help with the individual singer. Neither the album notes, nor the Irish Tenors Official Website offer any information about who sings on individual songs. This is a shame; certainly the soloists on "Lift the Wings" and "Beautiful Dreamer" deserve some individual recognition and applause.
Although Ireland arrived a few days late for St. Patrick's Day, it arrived with a musical gift for the many days to pass before the saint's day comes again. After all you don't need St. Patrick's Day to enjoy Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage, and you don't need St. Patrick's day to enjoy Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearne, and Karl Scully.