Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Fond Farewell

Ronnie Drew, the great Irish folk singer, died last August of throat cancer. He was 74. Drew once confessed to his son some regret that he had spent career singing what he called "diddly aye" music. As Ronnie was a jazz fan, it seemed natural to gather together jazz musicians to help him complete what everyone knew would be his final album, called The Last Session: A Fond Farewell.

Although not well known outside of the trad music community and his native Ireland, Drew was a major figure in folk music. A founder of The Dubliners, his gruff, foggy baritone must have seemed out of place in an Irish tradition accustomed to perfect pitch and vocal precision. Drew had neither of those, but he did have a wonderfully evocative voice and knack for getting at heart of a song, be it humor or pathos. One of his most famous vocals, "The Rare Auld Times" evoked a sentimental Dublin with a heartwarming nostalgia that would bring a tear to Dick Cheney.

The ravages of throat cancer affect but do not defeat Drew's voice on The Last Session. The jazz musicians provide an autumnal elegiac tone that fits the intent of the album perfectly. He's ably accompanied by Damien Dempsey on The Pogues "Rainy Night In Soho," Mary Coughlan on the signature song "We Had It All," and classical singer Emmanuel Lawler on the excellent "Loves Own Sweet Song." Drew warbles "September Song" with the conviction of a man who knows that it's his last recording, and has one last joke with a witty reading of "Molly Malone."

The Last Session is not a jazz album or even an attempt at one. It's a Ronnie Drew album that happens to be one on which he finds his voice with with jazz musicians. It has an intimate, parlor-music feel fitting for a valedictory statement, a quiet, understated three-point landing for a man whose talent was exceeded only by the good will he brought with him wherever he went...

The RTE reports on the release of The Last Session:

Bono leads a group of Drew's colleagues and admirers through "The Ballad of Ronnie Drew." Fittingly, a visibly moved Shane MacGowan, has the last word:

Citizen K.has more on Drew here...


Roy said...

Wow! That's quite a gathering of Irish talent on that stage. And a rollicking good song as a tip of the hat to Ronnie. And now I'll have to keep an aye out for that album; Ronnie Drew singing jazz ballads has got to be a trip.

John Hayes said...

Good stuff-- I checked out your earlier post & enjoyed that too. Love the Pogues clip!

willow said...

I know all the verses to Molly Malone from my enthusiastic third grade music teacher.

Greetings from Dublin! (Ohio, that is.)

K. said...

Roy, I quit trying to figure out who was on stage. I think Robert Hunter may be there somewhere, although I couldn't pick him out.

John, That Pogues/Dubliners clip is brilliant (as we say here)! When my boys were something like 12 and 14 they loved singing that one in the car.

Willow, are there cockles and mussels in Dublin, OH?