Dreams Of Freedom – Songs For Our Heroes – Album Review
The first thing I actually learned about Dreams Of Freedom came from checking out their social media page on Facebook, where, atop the page you might still be able to see a flower with a caption underneath that reads, “Wear Your Easter Lily with Pride.” Now…even on the best of days I’d be like, the tenth-best botanist in a room full of ten people at any given time, if I’d even rank at all – so naturally, I looked it up via Google to see what the significance would be; and down the rabbit-hole I went. All of a sudden I was immersed in Irish culture, everything from flowers to politics, and certainly history. For to really enjoy Dreams Of Freedom, is to also celebrate history, culture and music combined, as I would soon learn throughout my time checking into this band…
Incidentally…before we move on to the music, in case anyone out there is wondering like I was – the Easter Lily, according to Wiki, ‘is a badge in the shape of a calla lily flower, worn at Easter by Irish republicans as a symbol of remembrance for Irish republican combatants who died during or were executed after the 1916 Easter Rising.’ There is of course, more to that story…but in quick summation, as best I can tell, those that know their history in Ireland have certainly not forgotten…and the strong spirit of its people is still very much alive. The Easter Lily is also regarded as an Irish symbol of peace; which I think also gives us some insight into the music, character and attitude that you’ll find in Dreams Of Freedom. Lastly, it also mentions that basically, if a cat were to eat the entire plant at once there’s a large chance it’ll very quickly soon experience kidney failure…but I don’t think that part’s too relevant to this story today. Nor do I think cats should be out there munching on an entire plant…they should pace themselves much more properly than that. Let’s move on…
Songs Of Our Heroes is culturally significant in the sense of both its spirit, and the content itself. With fifteen tracks that detail the history through covers of the most well-known rebel songs from the Irish culture, all ‘dedicated to the men and women who gave their lives for the struggle of freedom in Ireland.’ It also includes one original within the set, which also ends up being the very song that eventually became the name for the entire band, “Dreams Of Freedom.” But make no mistake – the history runs deep here throughout these tunes…it’s all quite fascinating stuff to be truthful. You can hear that instant mix of talent, tradition and respect for the material immediately with the opening tune “Irish Soldier Laddie,” which is a great song to have chosen to start Songs Of Our Heroes…it’s like an audible call-to-arms…but insightfully peaceful at the same time. You’ll notice that’s a thread that carries through the music of Dreams To Freedom on this record…there’s a unified sound between them all that beckons you to join in and I think you feel that welcoming invitation right away on the album’s first tune.
I love music that has me learning something new. I’m way over here in Canada…I don’t know nearly enough about the history of the Irish and this entire album allows a guy like me to get a real glimpse of the culture through music, the best way to teach me anything at all. I look up names like “Kevin Barry” when I see them as a title…that’s just me and how I do what I do…sometimes it’s rewarding, sometimes it’s fruitless. In this case, the namesake of the second track of their record belongs to the ‘first Irish republican to be executed by the British since the leaders of the Easter Rising’ – again, borrowing this knowledge from what I’m finding out there on Wiki. Of course…if you really want the history on the brave young man known as “Kevin Barry,” have a listen to this tune. Musically, you’ll already know by this second song whether or not you’ll dig the sound of traditional Irish music…and I get that; but with so many facets to music out there, don’t deny yourself the chance to take in something like “Kevin Barry” that tells a real tale from history in a brilliantly written narrative. I hear no issues with the production or playing; the musicianship of Dreams Of Freedom is certainly skillful and the vocals seem to suit the music they’re playing exactly how I’d imagine they’d want them to sound.
“Broad Black Brimmer” is quite an interesting song when you read about its history as well. It loosely follows the tale of a uniform and the relevance it had to a particular war-torn family. It’s up-tempo and has a good mix of passion and a unified sound. It’s got a bit of what I’d consider the equivalent of that…like…maritime-sound of Canadian music, or nearly pirate sea-shanty sound to the melody’s cadence…which with the shouting from the background kinda feels like a fitting description. That being said, the story itself is another one well told through the lyrics and Dreams Of Freedom play this cut with genuine enthusiasm that sounds built for the pubs and raising a glass in memory of fallen friends. Can you get that feeling from a song? I don’t know how I could have written that statement if you can’t…that’s where the music took me in my mind…you can see friends chanting this one out loud.
I thought it was great to hear their own original work for a moment, “Dreams Of Freedom,” which was written beautifully by band-member Richie’s father John. As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s also where the band itself goes on to get their name from. It’s sung well with real heart…in my humble opinion, you can hear the added effort to get this one ‘right’ – and they do; I think this is a truly beautiful song and really well performed. The lyrics tell an incredible story with gorgeous imagery…you can head right into this story with your mind and picture every word so very clearly…it’s really, really well written. What I loved best about this tune was how it goes on to vividly describe what ‘home’ looked like, what was happening at the time, who John was with…who he loved…honestly, this is a really impressive tune with an insightful amount of melody in the vocals that nails the sentiment of this tune in stunning ways. “Dreams Of Freedom” is a bit more chilled-out and solemn in its sound, but the narrative really reflects beautifully between the best parts of nostalgia & memories against the weight of change and the curiosities within the journey of life. Absolutely one of my favorite songs from this record…but that stands to reason in my opinion…being an original, you can hear a little bit more of their own personality and what they bring to their own songs through “Dreams Of Freedom” – definitely a winner and wonderfully sincere. I loved how it’s more of a personalized-account of the history somewhat than some of these other tunes and how they’ve been written from more of a distance…if that makes any sense at all…yeah…I think that’s what I mean to say…there’s a real authenticity to this tune I like a lot.
“Boys Of The Old Brigade” has a bit more pronouncement in the instrumentation that makes up the atmosphere and music of this tune…you can hear the flute really well…what sounds like…I believe banjo? Could also be a plucked classical-guitar as well…it’s hard to say, but it’s really well played. I like the added rasp you can hear in the vocals here as the song progresses…at first I thought maybe the approach to this tune was going to come out as gentle as it begins, but I think they rowdy this one up enough by the end to really get that camaraderie across clearly. They put a lot of energy and character into their vocals on this tune and it sounds like they all get in on the action when it comes to the harmonies…another tune that really sounds like it has a ‘togetherness’ to it – a genuine feeling that you can find throughout the music of Dreams Of Freedom at multiple points throughout this record.
Fun fact: “The Galtee Mountain Boy,” was originally written with only three verses, then updated years later in its timeline to a song with four verses, which is apparently the way that you generally find this song being played today. Dreams Of Freedom stick with the popular consensus here and include all four verses in their own version and do another great job of bringing their history and culture to light through the mix of information in the music and true-to-the-style sound. I think the lead vocals do a great job of bringing out the best in the melody once again here…I think the instrumentation is in-line…I think I also should have mentioned the bass in Dreams Of Freedom by now and what a strong role it ends up playing on these tunes, because it quite often really is the backbone of the rhythm in this band. They’ve all done a sweet & sincere job on “The Galtee Mountain Boy” that I’d imagine would make the people over there mighty proud…from everything I’ve read, this is one of the more revered songs from throughout their history…the people can rest assured they’ve covered it beautifully.
While “My Old Man’s A Provo” might be a bit too much on the happy-sounding side of music to directly appeal to me personally, I still found it to be one of the most interesting songs on the entire record. I refer to the ‘suits’n’ties’ of the music-industry as a slight whenever I do it…and I’m pretty sure this song is doing that same thing. At the very least…even though I’m not entirely sure which side of the argument this song fully lands on…what I can tell you is that it’s basically an audio-equivalent of 1984, isn’t it? It’s definitely a song about The Man and the methods employed to keep the people down…that much I know for sure. Of all the songs on this record, “My Old Man’s A Provo” was the only one that sounded like it might have a few slight timing issues…that could be me…in any event, if they are there, they’re very slight ones that won’t affect a listening experience…but there is something about this one that really sounds like it’s being played live right off the floor. I think there’s a purposeful speeding-up/slowing-down here…the only thing that tipped me off that it might be an actual timing issue was the ‘go to bed tonight’ line in the vocals that seemed like it got caught in one cautious moment in effort to stick with the beat…again, could just be me hearing it that way. You can hear this would definitely be a solid track in a live setting, “My Old Man’s A Provo” really has that sound I’d assume represents what they bring to the stage onto the record here…which truthfully could be said for many of these tunes.
You know it…another name in the title and I’m right back to the internet searching the history while listening to Dreams Of Freedom soothingly sing “James Connolly,” which is actually interesting in itself when you hear how ummm…descriptive some of these lines are. Soothing might not be the first thought that would come to mind if you were just to read the lyrics of the song on paper. More interesting history here though…”James Connolly” was born in Scotland to Irish parents and became both a proud Irish republican and socialist leader. Probably one of my favorites from Songs For Our Heroes though…I really enjoyed this melody and think that they’ve brought out some of their A-game as far as the mix, production and performance are concerned. The pace & movement…the staccato-like sound of the guitars at times…really beautiful stuff and has a lot more in common with some of the amazing sounds in world-music from different parts of Europe than people might even realize.
Some of these songs really carry that ‘raise a pint’ feeling in their atmosphere…songs like “Boys Of The Old Brigade,” “Broad Black Brimmer” and certainly “The Birmingham Six.” Dreams Of Freedom have a real luxury of sounding great together with their full-harmonies, but also extremely impressive with a more isolated lead…so really, they can’t lose when it comes to the vocals. The method on “The Birmingham Six” really works well for them…the way that the additional vocals come into the chorus sound like they completely fill the room when they come in to support the lead, making this tune a highly-memorable and powerful experience to the ears. So full in fact, that it really did kind of leave us at the biggest, most full-moments of the song’s atmosphere, which makes the exit from “The Birmingham Six” into “Provo’s Lullaby” have that much more impact as they switch to a much more intimate sound.
Alright. I took history. I feel like I should really know what the heck a ‘Provo’ is, especially now that Dreams Of Freedom have twice chosen a song with a reference to it in the title with “Provo’s Lullaby.” So it’s time to do some learnin’ again! It turns out ‘Provo’ is short for Provisional Irish Republican Army, which came about through a ‘split in the republican movement’ – thus documenting yet another part of the Irish history here in this tale. My Canadian perspective on world-history always fascinates me…I personally think our own history is so entirely boring compared to so many places out there…add Ireland to that list. There are SO MANY parts to this entire story…and I truly commend Dreams Of Freedom for compiling a list so compelling and telling of their history. Nothing quite documents our histories like music does…I maintain, it’s the best form of teaching out there when done right like this. I’ve learned more from doing this one review than I did in like, I dunno, ALL of grade nine. The guitars are gentle and sweet…there’s a brilliant lead-line in the melody played throughout “Provo’s Lullaby” that was seriously captivating to listen to – as much as I liked the way that Dreams Of Freedom sing this one, and I do – I could barely take my ears off that one lead-guitar part in the music…it takes you on such an extraordinary journey all on its own and really never quits, leading you all over melody confidently.
One of my personal favorites on this record is “The Fields Of Athenry” – another really beautiful melody perfectly executed by this band of five brothers-in-arms. You can really feel the unity in a song like this by the stunning way they perform it; nothing I’d remotely change from the way they play the music to the way the harmonies combine for one of their most powerful tunes on the record. There’s a good chance that this IS my favorite track on Songs For Our Heroes…I really think they’ve done a spectacular job on this one. They keep this one fairly sparse in the music and let the melody in the music & imagery in the words really speak for itself, coming in to support at the moments where the lyrics beckon the other instruments and voices to assist. There’s a real magic in this performance from Dreams Of Freedom…another song where you can really hear just how much everything is going RIGHT for them; I don’t think you could ask anything else of them from the production to performance – gorgeous tune.
Seán South, also known as “Sean South Of Garryowen” tells the tale of yet another brave soldier from the battlefield, and the song to follow details the life of “Joe McDonnell” – another warrior of his own rite. McDonnell was arrested and interned, eventually joined what I now know to be ‘Provos’ in the Belfast Brigade of the IRA…and eventually died in the 1981 Irish hunger strike. They’re of course, both tales of people that helped shape the culture of the Irish through their actions and played important roles in their history through what seems like different methods, unique from each other but a part of the same battle. “Joe McDonnell” went an absolutely astonishing 61 days without food before he passed away…and interestingly enough, the song also references another important member of the movement at that time, Bobby Sands, who incidentally is buried in the grave right next to “Joe McDonnell.” Performance wise – I think this is also another really strong tune on Songs For Our Heroes and that they really pull the sincerity of the writing right to the forefront in a really respectable cover version. I liked the tale of “Sean South Of Garryowen” as well…it was still an enjoyable tune, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I felt like it was almost immediately overshadowed by “Joe McDonnell” right afterwards. Definitely great selections to have included on this record of historical moments from Ireland…there are a lot of key names that were certainly important in their history and both these two really represent their own unique aspects of that.
“Men Behind The Wire” – another one of the shorter tunes on the record that mixes a bold lead sound to the vocals with strong harmonies coming in to support. I love how much emphasis these songs have on ‘the people’ in Ireland’s history…almost like in a sense, this album is written from the perspective of boots that were on the ground, shoulder-to-shoulder on the frontlines, willing to fight for peace. The main contrast of course to all these tunes, no matter how tough the tale…is the gentle approach and sound that generally accompanies the music, moods and atmospheres of the sound of Dreams Of Freedom. They do gentle & tender really well…even in a more mid-tempo setting and fairly brutal tale at times in a song like “Men Behind The Wire,” there’s a distinctly sweet sound in their approach. “Men Behind The Wire” definitely details the struggle with the English even more and the brutality they imposed on the Irish – but most importantly, it reflects the unbreakable spirit of the Irish people.
Just as smart as they began this record, they close it just as brilliantly with the “Medley: This Land Is Your Land/Let The People Sing.” You hear familiar names you now know like Bobby Sands and references to other parts of the story we’ve learned along the way…some geographical of course, in that tradition of “This Land Is Your Land.” But if anything sums up the message behind the movement…I’d have to say they’ve chosen to end this particular record with the one that says it best…how the world belongs truly to the people and ultimately promotes that unity between us all. Instrumentation, melody and harmonies combine powerfully once again in their final moments…another song with the genuine passion and heart that has this crew of five Irishmen, Richie, Mike, John, Bryan and Aaron all sounding their best at the end of their album of historic, traditional and uniquely entertaining tunes.
On one final, semi-related note…can I just say I really like the Dreams Of Freedom website for one really cool reason above all others? As a music-reviewer for years now, I’m far too familiar with how many of my ‘peers’ out there tend to spin a record once (if even that) and not really listen to what’s being put out there…or in an instance like this one, why. At the Dreams Of Freedom website though – you’ll see in the top right that it automatically logs on the site in real time where a visitor is popping in from and what they’re checking out…thus either eliminating the problem of shallow-reviews altogether or at the very least, making it super-easy to identify who really is and isn’t listening. If there’s a takeaway to gain from their online presence for you all out there…it’s that you should do the same! That’s just plain smart is what that is…and you can also see just how many people have been checking out Dreams Of Freedom along the way…they’ve clearly got a lot of support out there. And if you scan that list right now…you’ll see us here in Ottawa, checking out this record several times throughout this past week – because I’ve sincerely enjoyed listening and learning to these historical tunes and the respectful way that Dreams Of Freedom have approached these songs. Highly unique and seriously rewarding to listen to – I even feel smarter as a result of listening to this record – how many albums out there can you say THAT about right? Definitely an experience to remember and a fantastic dose of real Irish culture that wonderfully combines music and the true spirit of freedom of expression on behalf of the people – one that provides something boldly unique in today’s world by exploring a past we should never forget.
Find out more about Dreams Of Freedom at their official page at: http://www.dofireland.com/
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