Sweeney's Men Sweeney's Men/The Tracks of Sweeney CD

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Sweeney's Men Sweeney's Men/The Tracks of Sweeney CD. 2 LPs on 1 CD: SWEENEY'S MEN (1968)/THE TRACKS OF SWEENEY (1969).
Sweeney's Men: Andy Irvine (vocals, guitar, mandolin, harmonica); Johnny Moynihan (vocals, bouzouki, whistle); Terry Woods (vocals, 6- & 12-string guitars, banjo, concertia).
Recorded in 1968.
Recorded in 1969.
Includes liner notes by Declan Colgan, Andy Irvine.
This is a two-for-one reissue of both Sweeney's Men albums. The 1968 self-titled debut was a notable contribution to contemporary Irish and British Isles folk in that it gathered some traditional material from Ireland, not just Britain and America. It also gave some depth to the well-traveled songs -- and songs like "Tom Dooley," "The House Carpenter," and "The Handsome Cabin Boy" are extremely well-traveled -- with an admirable assortment of instruments, including mandolin, bouzouki, harmonica, tin whistle, and concertina. Still, it's a rather average Irish folk record, with just one original song (Terry Woods' "My Dearest Dear"), and less striking to audiences of subsequent decades than it might have been at the time. Jigs, a cappella songs, and somewhat earthy folk (on "The Handsome Cabin Boy" and "The House Carpenter") all appear. Note that the version of "Tom Dooley" uses a much more rapid tempo, and a substantially different tune, than the familiar hit by the Kingston Trio does. The rendition of "Willy O'Winsbury" is probably the highlight. They were reduced to a duo on the subsequent The Tracks of Sweeney, with the departure of Andy Irvine. Actually, their music got more interesting, in large part because it featured mostly original material (often by Terry Woods) rather than old folk standbys. The music, while still folk and not folk-rock, took on a more personal, moody, and bluesy hue. "Dreams for Me" and "When You Don't Care" don't sound too different from some of Tim Hardin's work, with a bit of a British Isles slant. "Afterthoughts," with its unusual acoustic guitar sustain, was troubled yet subdued British singer/songwriter folk, putting Woods into the same company as Roy Harper, Ralph McTell, and others, without being derivative of those composers. There were still some numbers that were in the standard traditional folk vein, like the instrumental "The Pipe on the Hob" and "Pretty Polly," surely one of the most over-covered folk standards ever. At its best, it's quality, though minor, somber late-'60s British Isles folk; at its less impressive, it's routine traditional stuff. The one bonus track, "Old Woman in Cotton," comes from a 1967 single, and is one of their more memorable and dramatic songs. ~ Richie Unterberger


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