The Best Of The Dubliners

The Dubliners

Sony, 2002

REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles


In an interview on the Henry Rollins show, Shane MacGowan of The Pogues described the major themes of Irish music as “fucking, fighting, drinking, dying, living… you know, the things that everybody does.” Case in point: The Dubliners, a band that undoubtedly had a major influence on The Pogues.

The Best Of The Dubliners showcases a vast array of traditional and original Irish music, grabbing its listeners by the shoulders and shoving them into a hurling tournament. True to form, The Dubliners touch on all the subjects MacGowan points out as standard fare. First off, coitus, or, for the sake of political correctness, Darwinian selection in homosapiens.  “Maloney Wants A Drink” starts off with the young Don Juan named Maloney seducing Adam’s wife, Eve, then leaving her to do likewise with women all over the world. “Ah kiss me love, and miss me love / And dry your bitter tears / My loving you’ll remember now / For many, many years,” extols Maloney before exiting the lair of his short-term lovers, never to see them again. Most famous for The Dubliners, though, is their hit “Seven Drunken Nights,” which informs the audience of a drunken fool too intoxicated to realize his wife is cheating on him. Mixed with ringing guitars, a joyful melody, and a playful tone, “Seven Drunken Nights” makes you want to simultaneously dance and wince with awkward pain as the drunkard never quite catches on to his wife’s dishonesty.

Next is fighting. Sometimes The Dubliners are fighting for money (“Whiskey In The Jar”), or with their lovers (“Whiskey In The Jar,” again), or for freedom (“A Nation Once Again”). Either way, these are fights we can all understand. “A Nation Once Again” in particular is one of the most poignant pieces on the album. Sung and played with a haunting, melancholy sense of urgency and longing, the song’s signature vocals and banjo give rise to the famous rallying cry: “A Nation once again / A Nation once again / And Ireland, long a Province be / A Nation once again.” Recorded in 1967, the reality of a free Ireland was a long way off and only three of the original five members lived long enough to see it happen. But like most Irish revolutionaries or songsmiths during Ireland’s 700-year conflict with the British, The Dubliners refuse to give up the fight. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

As for drinking -- this is a touchy subject. While Ireland has traditionally been a manufacturer of wonderful beer and whiskey, I wish not to propagate cultural stereotypes that are unfairly pushed upon individuals. Nonetheless, pride in their drink is commonplace amongst The Dubliners’ songs, most prominently in “Drink It Up Men.” Sounding eerily similar to a Son House blues, the community vocals gleefully encourage you to “Drink it up, men / It’s long after ten.”

Lastly, The Dubliners keenly extrapolate on dying and living. (I have lumped these together as they are unarguably related). The death scenes in The Best Of The Dubliners are mostly tragic tales. One example is “Weila Waile,” in which a woman is hung as punishment for killing her child. Put to a melody so simple and catchy it seems appropriate for a preschool sing-along, “Weila Waile’s” juxtaposition of musical frivolity with the lyrical coldness of infanticide is frightening and horrific. Living, on the other hand, is glorious, exciting, and nuanced. Such is life for the traveling rogues in “I’m A Rover” and “I’m A Free Born Man.”

I contend that all of The Dubliners’ songs are about living. Named after James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners, The Dubliners give a comprehensive, deep exploration of the various people’s lives. Some are good folk, and some are not, but all have lives worthy of exploration. Musically, The Dubliners play with a sensitivity and vigor rarely heard in more polished, commercialized recordings. Most touching is their frequent use of tin whistle, played by Ciaran Bourke. Although small, the tin whistle has a large, engulfing sound that I wish I heard on more recordings. It is one of my favorite instruments. My only warning is that The Best Of The Dubliners might be too strong for those uninitiated with traditional Celtic music. Although I was introduced to Celtic music early in life by the Irish nuns who ran my grade school, I first became a fan through rock bands such as Flogging Molly, Thin Lizzy, and the Scottish Dropkick Murphys. For those looking for a softer Celtic sound, I recommend the Scottish Old Blind Dogs or The Three Irish Tenors. But for those looking for a beautifully coarse exposé on sexual selection, conflict, vice, and life cycles, The Best Of The Dubliners is a refreshing and reflective journey into the fascinating lives of our fellow hominids.

Rating: B+

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© 2009 Michael Broyles and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sony, and is used for informational purposes only.