The first part of this series, Welcome Home, focused on Irish music in its homeland. For the second half, host and co-producer Moya Brennan (of Clannad) interviews Irish exports. Rockers and poppers like U2, Glen Hansard (of The Frames and Swell Season and star of Once), Damien Rice, The Corrs, and the Cranberries get plenty of attention. Some favorites of public television pledge drives are here, too: the lamentably M.O.R. Celtic Woman and the herald of the most recent Celtic revolution in the States, Michael Flatley (however, the program focuses on Lord of the Dance, rather than Riverdance).
U2’s interview is an enlightening moment of the entire series, and not just because they’re arguably the biggest rock band in the world (“arguable” because, well, The Stones are still around) and wrapping up their fourth decade as performers. U2 started out on the heels of the New Wave movement, then took a detour for several years, as chronicled in Rattle and Hum, exploring American music and injecting traditional elements into their delay-drenched and punk-influenced sound. Bono, on a program that appears to be celebrating Irish tradition, regrets this move, saying, “U2 always sounded like the future to me.” He describes what the band produced when they turned to the past as “shite.” It’s refreshingly honest of the programmers to leave this in, because it’s essentially counter to everything you think they are arguing for. Once you year this line, it becomes clear that they’re instead just offering an unabashed survey of the music the island has produced int he last thirty years.
“The Unsung Heroes of Grafton Street” is the highlight of this segment because it provides the biggest opportunity for discovery. It interviews some of the most recent singer-songwriters to come out of the busking scene in downtown Dublin, and although it focuses mostly on the ones who “made it,” Brennan gives screen time to those who have found great success and respect at the local level. Given the short program length, this strikes me as very generous and unexpected. A more complete exploration of everything you can find musically on Grafton street might have mentioned Rodrigo y Gabriela, who are not Irish and play nothing remotely Irish, but you can’t have everything in such a short span.
The disc ends with “Bright Future,” where Brennan introduced viewers to The Script. Although “exile” isn’t explicitly mentioned, there is much attention paid to the time the young band spent outside their home country. That only one band is interviewed in this section is a bit of a let down, but it’s hard to predict who will become the next big thing.
The background music, some of which appears on a bonus CD, is still traditional, which can come off as a strange clash when you go from hearing strains of Carolan’s Welcome to, say, live footage of “Elevation” (by U2).
Most of Driftwood’s readers would probably be more interested in the first part of this series, which focuses on groups like The Chieftains and Planxty, but the producers have struck a nice balance and surveyed an impressive breadth of music in a short program.
—Jack Hunter (Baltimore, MD)