"Ride on, see you, I could never go with you, no matter how I wanted to." - Jimmy MacCarthy still vividly remembers a Christy Moore gig at Connoly Hall, Cork, when, in 1984, he all of a sudden realised that he had landed his first hit. Released on Christy's new album just a few days before, "Ride On" had immediately caught on. So that night Jimmy, born and bred in Cork himself, unexpectedly found himself between hundreds of fellow Corkmen and Corkwomen whom he could watch moving their lips as one, knowing the words to the tune by heart.
Ever since, Jimmy MacCarthy has written over a thousand songs, many of them modern classics like "Ride On", his best-known composition still. Even so, the one-time apprentice to Ballydoyle, Ireland's legendary racing stable, has remained a "personal tip" to date. This, of course, is due mainly to the fact that many of his songs were made popular by Irish fellow artists such as Christy Moore (who recorded "Missing You", "Bright Blue Rose" and "Mystic Lipstick", too) or Mary Black ("Katie", "No Frontiers", "Adam at the Window"). However, if this has earned him the honorary title of "one-man song-writing industry", it also explains why, up to AD 2002, Jimmy MacCarthy has released no more than two albums of his own, The Song of the Singing Horseman (1991) and The Dreamer (1994). These records have situated him firmly within the Irish singer/songwriter tradition, which has earned a place in its own right somewhere in the middle between "international" rock and "purist" trad music, the extreme points marked most distinctively by U2 on the one side and bands like Altan on the other.
Jimmy MacCarthy's new album, released this summer and titled The Moment, continues in the same vein as its predecessors, thus confirming his status as one of Ireland's most prolific composers and musicians. Nevertheless, five out of the eleven tracks on The Moment see him in the company of co-writes, among them not only Graham Lyle (who once upon a time penned "What's Love Got to Do with It?" for a now elderly lady known by the name of Tina Turner, and countless other pop songs) but Jimmy'sown nephew Chris Wall, who is also featured on keyboard and piano on the opening track. Most of the songs on the new album bear witness that Jimmy, irrespective of his Celtic roots, was raised chiefly on The Beatles and the radio, with the guitar rather than the fiddle or accordion the "natural" instrument. Consequently, the line-up is a typically "rock" music one, with only the odd cello or harmonica to be singled out of the guitar-and-keyboard-based sound. But, as always, Jimmy'sreal class in what he is doing. The melody lines float up and down, the chord changes frequently hold a surprise up their sleeve, and the backing vocals, as before sung by Mandy Murphy and Lynn Kavanagh, blend in congenially with the choruses all along.
Besides the music, the lyrics once again are a special delight of Jimmy MacCarthy's songwriting. He tells us tales of a juggler and a singing bird, of "The Contender" and "Baby's Broken Heart". Again, he has this special sense of a particular place or situation ("The Moment", "Original Doubt"). The pivotal centre, however, around which most of the songs on his new album revolve thematically, is the overwhelming power of love. Love is the force which inspired Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Jesus ("Still in Love") as well as the ultimate goal of our own pursuit of happiness ("Love Don't Fail Me"), and no matter how cut-and-dried this idea may seem, we'renot to dismiss it for these very reasons, "'cause your whole life can change in a minute, and you'd never see it coming at all." At the end of the day, Jimmy seeks to persuade us that "love is the answer, whatever the question", and the good thing about it is that, as the verse continues, "the harvest of love can be easily grown."
Ultimately, the singer-songwriter from Cork goes so far as to plead forcefully for his own view that "love" is an indispensable life principle existing even separate from individual human beings, as he explains in "The Music of Love": "Everybody's looking for that special someone, someone to make them feel more than they feel when they are alone. Stop reaching out for what's already within you. And you won't have to worry, and you won't have to roam. I'm talking 'bout a higher love, I'm talking 'bout a love above anything I've ever known. Can you feel it in the moonlight? Can you feel it in the daylight? All the magic of your life: It's the music of love." Naturally, this is an idea which we can only take or leave. But if there's hope to be gained from it, then we could do worse than at least wishing to believe that there's something to it.
Jimmy MacCarthy's plea for an abundant faith in love thus proves a remarkable accomplishment, both musically and poetically. Even so, if I think of his own first record, The Song of the Singing Horseman, with its masterly blend of pop melodies, trad fiddles, Spanish guitars, country-and-western rhythms and chamber-music strings as well as its rich imagery of literary and biblical allusions, all of which, taken together, have captured my imagination for years with the mystical and mythical atmosphere those songs so uniquely create, then I cannot but conclude that his fascinating debut album has still remained unmatched.
Jimmy MacCarthy "The Moment"; Ride On/Cog;
ROR CD004; 2002; Playing time: 40.38 min.
Jimmy MacCarthy; Distributed by Cog Comunications/Kieran Goss.
All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission. Although any external links from FolkWorld are chosen with greatest care, FolkWorld and its editors do not take any responsibility for the content of the linked external websites.