(Border of Heaven)

Traditional Celtic Music's
Contributions to American Music

A casual exploration of how traditional Celtic tunes and songs appeared and evolved in various American music genres.
The Border of Heaven - Missourian Connie Dover connects cowboy songs with their traditional sources

Updated November 26, 2006

Traditional Irish and Scottish tunes and songs came over the Atlantic with the immigrants. As American and Canadian musicians found their unique voices in cowboy songs, country, bluegrass music, and jazz, the vocabulary many of them had to work with was traditional music. The Americans often forgot the names of the old tunes and songs, so gave them new ones. A century or two later musicians crossing the Atlantic often find tunes and songs that sound familiar, but with different words or arrangements.

These CDs explore how the songs and the immigrants brought with them from Scotland and Ireland and shaped American music indelibly from the hills of Appalachia to the broad prairies to the cowboy songs of Wyoming. Listen and learn.(The many American and Canadian musicians and groups that play purely traditional music are covered alongside their Irish or Scottish counterparts elsewhere on this website.)


(Bringing It All Back Home) Bringing It All Back Home (BBC 1991) This is a double CD set produced for a BBC TV series. This set has a remarkable cast ranging from Hothouse Flowers, DeDanann, Emmylou Harris, Dolores Keane, Mary Black, Sharon Shannon, Luka Blume, Elvis Costello, Davy Spillane, Richard Thompson, Liam O'Flynn, Maura O'Connell and many others. I believe it has recently been re-released.
(Transatlantic Sessions 2, Volume One) The Transatlantic Sessions 2, Volumes One and Two (Lismor Iona, 1998). Assemble some of the world's best musicians from different, if related, traditions for a BBC TV special and let them loose in comfortable surroundings. Good idea. Shetland fiddler Aly Bain invites Bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs, Irish/Nashville singer Maura O'Connell, Irish singer Paul Brady, dobro wiz Jerry Douglas, Cajun fiddler extraordinaire Michael Doucet, Irish whistle champion Breda Smyth, American folk legend Nanci Griffith, Capercaille singer Karen Matheson, Roseanne Cash and others, and you know a good time is going to be had. This CD is worth it for Breda Smyth's unbelievable whistle medley alone. Volume Two is more of the same plus Gaelic singer Ishbel McAskill and Sharon Shannon thrown in as if they needed any livening up!

Solo Artists:

(Cowboy Celtic)

David Wilkie & Cowboy Celtic- Cowboy Celtic Collection- Celtic Roots of Cowboy Music (Passion Music 1999) From the plains of Alberta comes this lovely collection of cowboy songs with their ties to Scottish and Irish folk melodies and songs fully recognized. There is even a Gaelic cowboy song, "Farewell to Coigach", written in the early 20th century in Montana! Songs with celtic roots include the "Streets of Laredo", "Whoopee-ti-yi-yo", "Bonnie Barbara Allen". The music is all performed in a lovely mix of cowboy and Irish/Scottish influences with fiddle, guitar, bodhran, and celtic harp with tunes as "Buffalo Gals" leading seamlessly into "The Blacksmith's Reel". The singing is great, and the liner notes extensive. This group is coming to the Bay Area this fall! (Highly recommended)

(The Man From God Knows Where) Tom Russell -- The Man From God Knows Where (1999 Hightone Records) "Come gather round me children, a story I will tell...So it's rise up all you ancestors, and dance upon your graves." So begins the saga. Russell,an extraordinary songwriter, has put together an immigrant's song cycle loosely based on the history of his own family. His great grandmother came from Ireland during the famine to the Midwest and his great grandfather came from Norway. The songwriting is gripping and eloquent. Russell's own wonderful singing is followed by some excellent Norwegian singers and Dave Van Ronk. Irish legend Delores Keane sings what may become the definitive version of "When Irish Girls Grow Up". The always spectacular Iris Dement is at her very best; her version of "Wayfarin' Stranger" with Annbjorg Lien accompanying on the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, and will haunt you for a very long time. However it is the final song, "Love Abides", that is the appropriate climax/moral of this album, capturing the effort, heartbreak, and hope of this tale in a breath-taking duet by Russell and Dement that will resonate with everyone. This album is genius. It is a deeply affecting work of survival and pride in the face of hardship and partings, joy, madness, tradition and novelty. Artfully mixing traditional tunes with his own songs, Russell has created a profound musical commentary on the human condition as expressed in a uniquely American way. This CD is more American folk than Celtic but it is a still an Essential Purchase.
(Border of Heaven) Connie Dover -- The Border of Heaven "Celtic Music on the American Frontier " (2000 Taylor Park Music) Connie brings her wonderful voice, her Missouri background, her experience as a trail cook on Wyoming cattle drives, and her study of Scottish music to illuminate the celtic roots of well-known "American" songs. The oral tradition of this music is beautifully demonstrated in Connie singing the British ballad "The Sailor Cut Down in His Prime" followed by cowboy singer Skip Gorman singing the American version, "The Streets of Laredo". Particularly well suited to Connie's skills is the American folk song "The Water Is Wide", formerly a Scottish ballad. As usual, Connie is accompanied by the finest of Scottish musicians such as Phil and Johnny Cunningham, and fellow Missourian Roger Landes on bazouki. (Highly recommended)

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Please send me your comments or suggestions: jim@sfcelticmusic.com