Music Review: Dan Milner, Civil War Naval Songs

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How It’s New York: Singer Dan Milner is a fixture on the New York scene, who often performs at the Blarney Star series at Glucksman Ireland House, and in Mick Moloney’s concerts.  He was a member of the Flying Cloud, the house band at the late, great Eagle Tavern (the concert series there moved to the Blarney Star and then became the series at Glucksman Ireland House).

How It’s Irish: Not only is Dan Irish-American, the album also reminds us that there were of course many Irish who fought on both sides of the American Civil War. And the Irish influence on many of the songs is unmistakeable.

A version of this review, by Gwen, was first published in Irish Music Magazine.  I also reviewed Dan’s last album, “Irish Pirate Ballads,” for Time Out New York.

DAN MILNER, DAVID COFFIN, JEFF DAVIS 

Civil War Naval Songs,13 Tracks

Balladeer Dan Milner has acclaimed albums of historical songs that include “Irish Pirate Ballads” (2009) and “Irish Ballads and Songs of the Sea” (1998). His latest offering,
Civil War Naval Songs,” includes 13 naval songs from both sides, and some from merchant ships too.The CD published by Smithsonian Folkways includes an informative and handsome 36–page booklet.

An essay called “The American Civil War Afloat” by James Bradford, from the Department of History at Texas A&M University, and Milner’s essay, “Naval Songs of the Civil War,” provide context.  Each song also has a good paragraph of text in the booklet explaining it.

This might make it sound like a musty offering for scholars, but this is not Milner’s style, and it’s a highly listenable album. It would be wonderful to hear in background on a hot day, sipping some lemonade on the porch, letting the world go by. It would also shuffle nicely with tune only trad albums.

The CD begins brightly with American folk singer, Jeff Davis on vocals and banjo, with “The Flight of the Hatteras and Alabama,” followed by David Coffin on vocals and concertina, accompanied by Gabriel Donohue on piano, with “The Jamestown Homeward Bound.” Coffin, Master of Ceremonies at the Boston Revels, has an impressive baritone with a shake in it, reminiscent of The Voice Squad. His rendition of the well–known “Bold Privateer” is a stand out.

Milner’s voice is higher, and unmistakeable; each word coming through with emotion and, often, humour. His cheekiness on “The Blockade Runner,” accompanied by Bob Conroy on banjo, Arthur Garnett on Anglo concertina and Harry Lowrey on English concertina, is delightful, more so when you realise the catch melody is one Milner wrote himself.

Milner also wrote the music–hall style melody to the concluding track, “The Monitor &Merrimac.” With a chorus singing in harmony, with vocals from Don Stiffe, as well as Bonnie Milner and Deirdre Murtha,  clarinet and piccolo from Kate Bowerman, and trombone from Melissa Gardiner, it can’t help but raise a smile – like the CD.

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