My decision to review this album was based on the historic nature of the era rather than the music. Let me say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised by In Person At Carnegie Hall by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. It was not only a nice picture of the times, but it was extremely entertaining and held my attention for about two hours. Not many albums can make such a statement.
A vinyl version of this album has been in my collection for decades. I must have picked it up at a garage or tag sale and probably played it once before filing it away. This 2009 two-disc CD release is nothing like the original issue, however. The two sets that made up their St. Patrick’s Day concert of 1963 are presented in their entirety. That’s two hours of music versus less than forty minutes on the original. The dialogue between songs is also presented intact, which gives the proceeding a more authentic and intimate feel.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were stars in their native Ireland. They were a traditional folk group specializing in Irish songs of love, work, drink, and rebellion. Their songs of rebellion had a little bite behind them despite the upbeat nature of their presentation. They were also very Catholic and their jokes and conversation about this fact sound interesting in the context the future political troubles of their country. They also make fun of President John Kennedy about nine months before his assassination, which underscores the simplicity of the time.
The first set’s highlights include the purity of their vocal harmonies on the traditional “Haulin’ The Bowline,” the musical comedy of “Mr. Moses Re – Tooral – I Ay,” and the humorous but pithy political statement of “Johnson’s Motor Car.” As well, the dialogue between many of these tracks is some of the best ever recorded live.
The second set is led off by the brilliant “Children’s Medley,” a mini musical for friends gathered around the fireplace. And songs such as “Jolly Prince Charlie,” “The Whistling Gypsy,” “The Jolly Tinker,” and “The Parting Glass” still hit the spot over four decades later.
In Person At Carnegie Hall finally gives The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem their due as this classic concert is restored to its entirety. The booklet with liner notes includes an excellent history of the group and of this performance. A special note by Liam Clancy, who is the only surviving member of the group, is poignant.
While the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem would never gain immense popularity in the United States, they would sell out concert halls and be a highly influential folk group to many of the emerging artists in the 1960’s, including Bob Dylan, who once stated that Liam Clancy was the best ballad singer in folk music. The original release ultimately reached Number Sixty on the Billboard charts and they went on to accept an invitation to play at the White House before President Kennedy.
I would recommend In Person At Carnegie Hall as a definite buy. Not only is it a glimpse into a musical era long gone, but it offers an entertaining way to wile away a couple of hours.