Dawn 1972 / Esoteric 2016
Before the days of Pearly Spencer: esteemed Irish minstrel explores medieval lore.
Those who know David McWilliams only by his 1967 classic may be familiar with the singer’s storytelling flair and attention to detail, but they will hardly be ready for the album which takes it all on a time warp to the 16th century Eire. Devoid of orchestration, this record’s warm ride through pop-folk eschews eerie enchantment in favor of deeply charming songs, and though “Go On Back To Momma” is rather misleading in its country-rock ramble, and the equally boisterous “I Will Always Be Your Friend” is where sentiment and social satire meet, the stately ballad “She Was A Lady” – laced with acoustic guitars over contemplative piano – evokes a new kind of mystique: rooted in tradition yet modern in spirit.
Of course, “I Would Be Confessed” could be an answer to a certain Dylan cut, but there’s more ancient poetry taking root in a Renaissance melody which leaves four walls for a whistle-accompanied walk of “Spanish Hope” to see through the years, and that’s where “Blind Men’s Stepping Stones” comes alive in a web of mandolins and harmonium to conjure up the Cromwell era. Back to the edge of Dark Ages, the title track delves into history in a sparse, troubadour way to gain dramatic weight and then embrace the silence again, before “The Prisoner” pours sweet poison into a sad tale of a poor man, and the fiddle-fanned dance of “The Gipsy” offers a satisfying finale to what essentially is a morality play set in a real world.
McWilliams would continue down that path with “The Beggar And The Priest” the following year, yet “Lord Offaly” remains the Irishman’s finest hour – unjustly overshadowed by the “Pearly” glory.