Album Review – The Beggarmen: A Soft Day

Iowa City has a deep tradition of acoustic folk music, of which the Beggarmen are proud members. They specialize in Irish folk music, but in addition to playing traditional tunes they write their own songs in the tradition.

Their musicianship on A Soft Day is impressive, all the more so for being completely relaxed. Irish Jigs and reels require no small measure of dexterity and are sometimes delivered with more grim determination than joy.

The Beggarmen combine technical precision with a sense of playfulness. The instrumental ‘sets’ (“Fergal O’Gary Set,” “Pocket Full Of Gold Set”) alternate with songs like “Almost Home” and “The Angels Whispered.” On the latter, Keith Reins’ baritone is very much a ‘folk’ voice–self taught, with no show-biz affectation–but with an excellent sense of phrasing.

Brad Poulsen and Tara Dutcher also sing: him with a clear, restrained tenor, and her with a pure sweet soprano. All the vocal songs are well sung, but my favorite on the CD is “Pocket Full Of Gold Set,” which combines first a jig and then a reel. The subtle swing the Beggarmen add to the rhythm of those dances gives them an almost (but not quite) jazziness. That’s what makes A Soft Day different from run-of-the-mill folk music albums: they’re not awed of the tradition and stamp each song with their own personality and original interpretation.