This new three-CD set from the bard of Newbridge features Christy Moore’s own songs, many which he has re-recorded, with a couple of live cuts and a few new songs thrown in for good measure. Some of the songs he co-wrote with others, like The Time Has Come - music by Dónal Lunny - and North and South of The Border, written with Bono and the Edge.
The first song on the first disc, Where I Come From, is a richly meditative place to start from, as the balladeer recalls time spent on the bog as a boy, in the warm company of cousins and grandparents. He is remembering, like Van Morrison used to do, focusing on that precious trickle back, going back to origins. He is like Seamus Heaney calling up - or besieged by - visions of a childhood bog.
Helped along by a number of skilled accompanists, including co-producer Declan Sinnott, the singer casually introduces us to his Dowling cousins. He remembers summer days spent on their farm at Moorefield, near Newbridge. Based on an earlier song by his brother Barry, aka Luka Bloom, Where I Come From is in essence, a gentle rap song, conjuring a vanished world.
Christy shows the mark of a true poet, by choosing to celebrate, rather than mourn its vanishing, bringing us as close as he can to the bog, without over-elaborating. The singer has always known when to be tentative, to be cautious with his word hoard, to sometimes do the bare sketch and let the listener’s imagination do the rest.
However, he knows too how to load his lyrics with profound feeling, employing that intimate, almost conspiratorial voice with immense power. The songs which reveal that particular gift are here too, with all their uncomfortable histories. The Stardust Song, recalling the 48 young people who "never came home" still raises chills over thirty years on, it is so powerfully moving.
Arthur’s Day tells bitter truths, no matter what way you look at it, as Christy sings, “Diageo goes AWOL at closing time. “ It’s a chilling song about a marketing campaign, and, like the best of Christy’s songs, you hang on every word. The fact that alcohol is legal detracts nothing from the implicit warning in its catalogue of woes. Because it is so habitual to drink to excess in this country, the song is even scarier than if it dealt with an illicit drug.
Christy's earlier song on the subject of alcohol, Delirium Tremens - the one about the guy on the surfboard and the 15 pints of stout - comes a little later. Arguably, writing the Arthur’s Day song slayed the black comedy in Delirium Tremens, maybe you can’t have it both ways.
And we haven’t even got past CD one, in this vast panoply of Christy treasure. The Two Conneelys, one of his greatest songs, concerning an Aran Islands drowning tragedy, features on disc three. There are lots of songs that open out an intricate picture of Irish life, an affectionate tapestry. There are that songs that celebrate horses, things like The Ballad of Ruby Walsh, which easily mixes admiration and bemusement. Or there's Derby Day, with its Curragh stable hands, trainers and jockeys.
Easter Snow, his tribute to the piper Seamus Ennis, shows a deep connection with the legendary musician. It is clear from all these great songs that Christy steers mostly by selfless love. Even the caustic ones are written out of genuine care for the less fortunate, and that’s the simple truth of it.