Live at the Irish Pavilion by Tommy Makem (CD, May-1993, Shanachie Records)

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Folksinger Tommy Makem's Gig at his Own NYC Pub

Apr 28, 2001 (Updated May 18, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Talented, highly regarded Irish folksinger/songwriter in live concert performance.

Cons:Instrumental arrangements sometimes overdone and muddy-sounding; guitarist only does one bland strumming pattern throughout.

The Bottom Line: Overall, a fine tribute to traditional and contemporary Irish music--though with the instrumentation, less is definitely better. Check it out!


This is a recorded version of one of Tommy Makem's monthly gigs at his late, lamented Manhattan folk club/restaurant, Tommy Makem's Irish Pavilion. Well into his fourth decade of professional folk performance, this album finds the beloved Armagh-born folksinger enjoying a new lease on his musical life, having survived a heart attack and bypass surgery the year before. He is also well into the latest phase of his solo career, singing a mixture of original compositions, traditional Irish ballads and pub songs, and covers of other contemporary folk songs. Tommy is an alumnus of several Irish folk collaborations, most notably the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and Makem & Clancy, but he enjoys performing solo or with his three sons (a/k/a The Makem Brothers) these days. This has allowed him more scope to present his own compositions, and to focus on reviving centuries-old traditional ballads from his native Northern Ireland (including the album's best song, "My Dark Rosaleen", an electrifying war chant translated from Irish by poet James Clarence Mangan, and sung by Tommy with only his bodhran for accompaniment).

This album is a very fine addition to the collection of any fan of Makem and the Clancy Brothers, and a good introduction for newcomers to Tommy's singing and songwriting style. The only drawback I can think of is that there is simply too much of the technically good instrumentation; and the lead guitarist Ron D'Addario needs to do more than the same leisurely strumming on most of the songs. His self-limited expressive range gives much of the instrumentation an unnecessarily bland quality; and some of the bass and other instrumental backups could be dispensed with altogether to the improvement of some of the songs (for example, the presence of so many instruments on "The Gartan Mother's Lullaby" and "Son of the Soil" gives their live performances a rather bland, muddy sound under the vocals). This is why many critics agree that the album's best track by far is the above-mentioned "My Dark Rosaleen", which clearly suggests that less is often better when it comes to the arrangement of traditional acoustic music. Similar overdone instrumentation creates the same problematic effects on other Makem albums, including the earlier "Lonesome Waters" and "Evening with Tommy Makem".

Still, this is a pleasant and listenable recording, with Tommy in his usual charismatic element, instantly commanding an enthusiastic audience into a chorus role and creating a community out of music fans that came in as strangers and left as friends. I can only suggest that he needs backing instrumentation that enhances his own energy and passion for the music, rather than needlessly dragging it down. Bring back the likes of Donal and Manus Lunny, Davy Spillane, Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey, Archie Fisher and Allan Barty, and get the Celtic soul in Makem's music going again!


Recommend this product? Yes


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