When the Irish came to America, they brought their music with them, Naturally, traditional Irish songs made their way into many forms of American popular music, including bluegrass. This list of songs exemplifies the best of St. Patrick’s Day music and bluegrass tradition.
Irish Tenors, Bluegrass Songs
· “Casey’s Last Ride” by Peter Rowan: Rowan channels Irish tenors from Dennis Morgan to John Duffey with a faint Irish brogue, and a yearning vocal on this Kris Kristofferson tune about an Irishman in the midst of an existential crisis.
· “Raglan Road” by Peter Rowan: Another Irish song from Rowan’s Walls of Time album, this one is a bittersweet love song. The emotion is heightened by sweet duo vocals from Rowan and Alan O’Bryant.
· “A Lonesome Night” by Ricky Skaggs: In a technically dazzling performance, Skaggs applies the Irish melismatic singing style to quintessentially Irish lyrics about lost love, a tragic misunderstanding, and a dark, forbidding landscape.
· “Katy Daley” by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys: A good-humored shout-out to an enterprising Tipperary girl who’s made good in America by supplying the locals with her storied home brew.
· “Colleen Malone” by Larry Sparks: His approach is all bluegrass, but Sparks brings so much soul to this tale of a career at sea, unexpected tragedy, and enduring love for an Irish lass, that any Irishman would be proud to claim it.
· “When the Mist Comes Again” by Dale Ann Bradley: Extreme poverty, disease, despair, deep religious faith, and loneliness are themes common to both Irish music and traditional bluegrass. They’re combined with Bradley’s mournful mountain vocals and a suitably spare band arrangement.
· “The Legend of the Irish Rebel” by Mac Wiseman: This record is pure country, but Mac Wiseman’s “heart singer” style descends from the Irish tenors popular earlier in the 20th century. Wiseman uses his emotional style to great effect on this story of a dying Irishman who longs for one more glimpse of home.
· “John Riley” by Tim O’Brien: Not the old folk song covered by Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, but an original tale of an Irish mercenary at the battle of the Alamo.
Irish Instrumentals, Bluegrass Fiddle and More
· “Chicken Reel” by Bill Monroe and Doc Watson: It’s just guitar and mandolin from two of the most influential pickers in bluegrass on this thrilling live recording. There’s so much excitement here that it’s easy to forget there’s no backing band.
· “Whiskey Before Breakfast” by Don Reno and Red Smiley: Two more bluegrass legends, on banjo and guitar, lead their band through a blistering version of a song that’s a standard in both Irish and Appalachian music circles.
· “Paddy on the Turnpike” by Bob Paisley and the Southern Grass: A traditional Irish song gets the full bluegrass treatment, thanks to exceptional fiddle and banjo work from, respectively, Jon Glik and Bobby Lundy.
· “Irish Spring” by The Country Gentlemen: Ricky Skaggs’ crisp mandolin work stands out on a track from a band whose approach to Irish music was as progressive as their approach to bluegrass.
· “Bill Cheatham” by Vassar Clements: An undisputed master of modern bluegrass fiddle, Clements weaves an old-timey fiddle sound in with his highly individual style, strongly flavored with jazz and swing.
· “Mansker Spree/O’Caughlin’s Reel” by Cherryholmes: The feel of this medley leans more toward Celtic new age music than bluegrass, but the expert young pickers in this family band make the journey worthwhile. Molly Kate Cherryholmes’ fiddle work shines here.
· “Durham’s Reel” by Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper: Michael Cleveland fuses traditional bluegrass fiddle style with a warm, rich tone on another traditional Irish song.
Bluegrass Songs Make Fun St. Patrick’s Day Music
Combining a deep love of both Irish and Appalachian tradition with fearless experimentation, these Irish songs evoke St. Patrick’s Day in both style and substance.