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Review of Across the Great Divide

Steve Winick
Dirty Linen
October/November 1993

Brendan Nolan, an Irish emigrant living in Canada, can't be chastised for singing only well-known songs, even if his idea -- to record an album of emigration songs -- has been done before. His album Across the Great Divide [Ould Sagosha Music BNC 002] isn't just a tired rehashing of all the emigration ballads you've ever heard. For one thing, he strays from the path and sings several songs that have nothing to do with emigration. While this is to a certain extent inexplicable (there are certainly enough emigration songs to fill up many, many albums) it does have the effect of breaking up the monotony. Three songs fit this description: "The Devil and the Bailiff," "The Widows Walk," and "All I Remember." "The Devil and the Bailiff," while not unknown on Irish folk albums, is not often recorded, and is a very funny song (well, the first 10 times you hear it, anyway!). The solo vocal-with-bodhran arrangement fits it well. "All I Remember" is Mick Hanly's classic song about growing up in Ireland, and "The Widow's Walk" is a Nolan original about a sailor's wife waiting for her sailor to return.

Speaking of Nolan's original songs, they're a highlight of this tape for me; after all, while it's always nice to hear another version of "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore," or "Welcome Paddy Home," it's also nice to hear new material (Hey, I seem to have said this before. Guess I really mean it!). "The Curse of the Immigrant," about wondering what might have been had he stayed, "North of the Rio Grande," about a Mexican worker who wants to go north, and "Beresford," the classic "nobleman meets servant girl and has to run away from evil father," plot, set in the Ireland of the 1798 rebellion, all help make this tape stand out. A sweet and powerful voice, good basic guitar playing, and tasteful arrangements also help make this a pleasant listen. [Ould Sagosha Music / 5160 Mayfair / Montrea1, PQ H4V 2E9 / Canada]