Best of the Vanguard Years
The Clancy Brothers with Lou KillenVanguard 79551-2
A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
It's been nearly forty years since the Clancy Brothers made their initial impact in the United States, but all those passing years have done little to lessen the impact they have made as the foremost name in Irish folk music. Ringing every bit of honest emotion out of every line, the listener is never cheated as the Clancys retell fascinating tales of rebellion, lost love, and the finer details of life. Never sparing any of the potential humor and poignancy that each song can bear, their songs go a long way to paint a picture of an idyllic and unspoiled homeland, where passionate young men chase girls, enjoy a good drink, and die for their country. However accurate these stories and the images they evoke might or might not be, they sure are fun to listen to.
The Best of the Vanguard Years is about as fine a collection of Clancy Brothers music as is going to be found. Recorded in 1973 with Lou Killen, and with occasional banjo accompaniment by Don McLean, the twenty-eight tracks here were recorded to be a greatest hits package. Though the band had been performing and recording most of these songs for years at this point, the versions here represent some of the most spirited renditions that are going to be found anywhere in the Clancy catalogue. Add to that fine liner notes and the fact that this collection is sure to boast superior listening to most scratchy old vinyls, this is an obligatory purchase for any Clancy fan.
To be sure, you'd be hard pressed to find a much better single CD's worth of the Clancy's music, and of the twenty-eight tracks, none are duds. Persistent themes recur in the Clancy's music, as well as on this disc: love, liquor, and rebellion, with all three becoming intertwined on occasion. The opener, The Maid of Fife, which Bob Dylan would borrow from in his Pretty Peggy-O, is one such song, being the tale of a love-struck soldier. Rather delicate tracks like Whistling Gypsy and The Nightingale, the latter making fine use of a concertina, are excellent examples of the Clancy's balladry skills. Though a little too much is made of the Irish's affinity for spirituous beverages, the Clancy's music does little to discourage that stereotype, with Jug of Punch, Mountain Dew, Rosin the Bow, Whiskey is the Life of Man and the wildly rambunctious Whiskey, You're the Devil. Rebellion, or at least military life, is also the topic of exemplary tunes like the lilting Gallant Forty-Twa, the courageous Roddy McCorley, and the anthemic Bonnie Charlie, which is actually a Scotish rebellion tune, and the heroic Kelly--The Boy from Killarn.
Of course, a good many of the songs are just tales of Irish life, both sacred and sacrilegious. Hilarious cuts like They're Moving Father's Grave (To Build a Sewer), though here just titled Father's Grave, and the mischievous wife of Old Woman from Wexford are all in good fun. Life on the seas also gets more than a passing mention with the a cappela Haul Away Joe, the fishing tale of The Shoals of Herring and the rollicking sing-a-long The Mermaid. The final four tracks present the Clancys in concert and provide significant evidence to their popularity as a touring group.
It's hard to explain just how much good music has been crammed into this seventy-five minute collection. For sure, the time spent listening to the Clancy's music flies by. Sadly, both Tom and Pat Clancy have passed on in the last 10 years, so the music here isn't likely to be replicated any time soon. Fortunately, The Best of the Vanguard Years allows us one last listen to the original Clancys as they recount the tragedy and triumph of the Irish with all the passion and reverence they can muster, making all who listen a little happier to be alive. In the end, that will be the memory that prevails.
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All songs traditional except as noted
Edited by David Schultz