Music review: High Kings satisfy audience desire for Irish ballads

The High Kings, four Irish lads who celebrate their homeland through song, sang a collection of trad

The High Kings, four Irish lads who celebrate their homeland through song, sang a collection of traditional tunes to promote their latest release “Memory Lane” at The Egg’s Swyer Theater on Sunday.

The night was filled with genuinely beautiful ballads and harmonies. But the High Kings, named after Ireland’s ancient rulers, can also feel like a grown-up pop “boy band,” sent here to deliver an Americanized Irish show. Despite some of that, there were plenty of broken-hearted tales and upbeat jigs about drinking, losing sweethearts and mourning for Dublin.

The foursome played a number of instruments that included guitar, banjo, recorder, accordion, keyboard and percussion. Despite all those instruments, the show lacked the dynamics of any instrumental solos, dominated by vocals at every point of every song.

“Hello Albany! Are you ready to party!” they yelled in the usually quiet and intimate Swyer Theater. The crowd, wearing a lot of green, responded with equal rowdiness.

They started the show with a series of uptempo tunes, aggressively for folk, like “Step It Out Mary.”

Brian Dunphy played mostly a percussive instrument but led the most moving songs, such as the “Fields of Athenry,” a song he explained as being about a man imprisoned for stealing corn for his family. There was the devilish “As I Roved Out,” about a man who snuck into his mistress’s house in the wee morning hours.

They crowded around one microphone for a great a capella version of the traditional “Red is the Rose.” Ironically for them, but in Swyer Theater spirit, the softest, most concentrated tune of the night yielded the largest applause.

Other traditional gems that they settled into included the peace song “The Green Fields of France” and “Dirty Old Town.” Their harmonies came through nicely on this. The crowd sang along with “The Black Velvet Band.”

Darren Holden, who starred on Broadway as Billy Joel in “Movin’ Out,” talked about the thrill of bringing the old songs to a new audience. While there were a few young people, the crowd was largely middle-aged and above.

The group also includes Finbarr Clancy, of the famous Clancy Brothers. He sang one of their more famous tunes, “Will You Go Lassie Go.”

They played a fast version of “The Ballad of Joe Hill,” after describing the union leader’s story, noting he had “the gift for gab” to stir his fellow workers. They encouraged everyone to clap along, which gave the song a happy dance feel, not quite right for this political folk tune.

Between songs they told short, scripted stories which gave the songs a little extra meaning. But it was hard to get over the unnecessary shouts throughout the show, like “Albany, ready to raise the roof with us!” as if we were sitting in a rock arena.

But to be certain, these were all talented performers who are enjoying a lot of success here.

While some acts might not get away with so little a range of music, their audience can’t seem to get enough of hearing good singers with Irish blood sing about their Dublin city.

Categories: Entertainment

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