Green Fields

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Robin Bullock - Green FieldsOut of Print


The Instrumental folk music of Ireland and Scotland has traditionally been the province of high-pitched, single-line melody instruments such as fiddle, flute, pennywhistle, accordion and bagpipes. In its purest form, the melody was played without accompaniment, except for the occasional bodhran (goatskin drum), and this lack of harmonic embellishment resulted in the development of great melodic complexity. When the music began to be recorded commercially in the 1920s, piano was often used for accompaniment, but that was probably in deference to uninitiated listeners, and it wasn't until the "folk boom" of the '50s and '60s and with it, the advent of the rock and roll era that acoustic guitar accompaniment began to be accepted into Celtic bands and informal music ".sessions".

At about the same time Irish musicians such as Johnny Moynihan, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Alee Finn, to name a few, began experimenting with the Greek bouzouki and discovered that its spiky, ringing tone was perfectly suited to either melody or accompaniment of the traditional dance tunes. This long-necked, bowl-backed cousin to the lute, mandolin and balalaika then began to evolve into a flat-backed, mandolin-like form, until the name bouzouki was no longer strictly applicable. Luthier Stefan Sobell (whose instrument I play on this recording) suggested the name cittern, which throughout the Renaissance and Baroque eras referred to a family of instruments with wire strings in pairs, played with a pick. The modern-day cittern is basically a large mandolin, usually with either eight or ten strings, which can be tuned a variety of ways. I play an eight-string version which I tune G-d-a-d' or G-d-a-e' (one octave below a mandolin).

While the cittern and guitar are now accepted, and even necessary, elements in traditional Celtic music, they still tend to be considered backup instruments for the most part, and it's rare indeed to hear them featured as lead voices for an entire album (although the work of citternist Gerald  Trimble and guitarist Dave Macisaac, among others, should be noted). On this recording, I have attempted to demonstrate the warmth and intimacy that these instruments are capable of bringing to the music, and perhaps contribute a few of my own ideas to the tradition as well. To that end, I have availed myself of modern multitrack recording technology, which enables me to play all the instrumental parts on my own - an unorthodox way surely, to record music that by its nature is largely social, but I can only hope that the result is worth it. Cheers!

 The Music

  1. The Pivot Brig / The Three Drummers / The Wandering Minstrel:  The program gets underway with three spirited Irish jigs. I found the first in Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes and the other two are well-loved session standards. Play this track loud. (Two citterns, guitar, bass guitar, fiddle)
  2. Luke Dylan / O´Flinn:  Two compositions of Ireland's legendary bard Turlough O´Carolan (1670-1738), a blind, itinerant harper renowned both in his own time and in ours. (Guitar, two citterns)
  3. The Dunmore Lasses / Crockett´s Honeymoon / The Landsdowne Lass:  The first reel is another session favorite, while the second came from my friend Freyda Epstein, a fine singer and fiddler from Charlottesville, Virginia. Despite being an American tune, it seems to fit right in; it's also known as "Crockett´s Hornpipe" and is sometimes attributed to Davy Crockett himself! The third reel is a composition of sligo flute and whistle master Josie MacDermott. (Three guitars, bass guitar)
  4. Donna´s Waltz: A lovely waltz composed by one of my all-time musical heroes, Scottish accordionist Phil Cunningham, and named in honor of his wife. (Two guitars)
  5. The Doubtful Guest / The Snakebite Jig: Two of my own tunes in an arrangement featuring double-strung instruments exclusively. A "snakebite" is a drink consisting of hard cider and beer—good for what ails (ales?) you. (Two citterns, 12-string guitar)
  6. Gae Bring to Me a Pint o' Wine: notesThis beautiful air comes from a book entitled Beloved Scotch (sic) and Irish Songs and Ballads, with lyrics credited to Robert Burns:
    Gae bring to me a pint o' wine
    And fill it in a silver tassie,
    That I may drink before I go
    A service to my bonnie lassie.
    The boat rocks at the pier o' Leith,
    Fu' loud the wind blaws frae the ferry,
    The ship rides by the Berwick law,
    And I maun leave my bonnie Mary.
    (TWO guitars)
  7. Lady Forbes / Danno´s Reel / Boil the Breakfast Early: notesThe first reel is found in both Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes and O'Neill's Music of Ireland, but I first heard it played by Norman Blake, who unfortunately has not yet recorded it. The second is in honor of my brother Dan, who like me ss a sucker for an ascending bass line, and the third was popularized by the Chieftains in the late 70s. (Three citterns)
  8. Loftus Jones / Deborah Marie:  Another Carolan composition, sometimes called "Planxty Loftus Jones." The word planxty is thought to derive from the Gaelic word slainte, meaning good health, and a planxty is simply a tune in honor of a patron. It's joined here with an original composition of mine, In what can only be described as an incredible display of chutzpah. (Solo guitar)
  9. The Market Town / The Cuckoo´s Nest Jig:  I got "The Market Town" from a live tape of DeDannan, although a somewhat different setting appears in O'Neill's . "The Cuckoo's Nest" is a hornpipe popular on both sides of the Atlantic; I've take the liberty of playing it in (6/8 meter, which turns it into a jig. (Just can´t leave those things alone...) This arrangement features the guitar and cittern trading solos, a practice common in bluegrass and jazz, but rarely heard in Irish music. (Guitar, cittern, bass guitar)
  10. Farewell to Craigie Dhu: A haunting air composed by Scottish fiddler/guitarist /singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean. His own version is on the Dunkeld CD, Dougie MacLean Fiddle , which I highly recommend. (Solo) guitar.)
  11. An Ugly Customer / The Dark Night:  My good friend Margie Farmer discovered the first reel (and what a great title!) in O'Neill's when she and I were scoring a musical version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It's paired with another of mine, the title of which is indicative of my emotional state when I wrote it. (Two citterns, guitar, bass guitar, fiddle)
  12. The Green Fields of America (Recorded, appropriately enough, on Inauguration Day, 1993): notesThe title of this well-known and much-loved reel reflects the perennial Irish concern and fascination with emigration to "the new land." I've slowed it down considerably to bring out the bittersweet yearning in the melody—thereby revealing, I suppose, a certain John Denver/Gordon Lightfoot influence on my musical development. No apologies! (12-string guitar, bass guitar, cittern, fiddle)

-----  Robin Bullock


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