Rum Ragged
Label: Independent
Album: The Hard Times
Tracks : 13

The Hard Times by Rum Ragged

The Hard Times is the latest album from Rum Ragged, one of the many great folk acts to hail from the Newfoundland area. Formed by Mark Manning (vocals and guitar) and vocalist and accordion player Aaron Collins in 2016, they have now expanded to include Anthony Chafe on bodhran and Michael Boone on banjo and bass. 

The opening track, Ladies Man is a good going song about courting six lassies at once (well, you do need one day off per week!).  It includes the fine musicality and nice soft harmonies which are prevalent throughout the album.

Bachelor’s Hall is a lovely, more sedate song with some nice accordion and guitar touches and with the fine harmonies to the fore once again. This is followed by the first tune set on the album and it bowls along at a cracking pace with the accordion taking the lead on Tom Brett’s and Bill Martin’s. It is a great, foot tapping set and perfectly played.

The Jim Payne song, Flesh and Blood is next up and it is unfortunately very relevant in today’s world. It asks the question “Why is the price of bread and milk so deer and flesh and blood so cheap?” and is once again beautifully performed. It is followed by a reading of the old poem, The Ragged Jacket, which fits the theme nicely.

Ron Hynes and Larry Foley’s fine song, Dirt Poor follows and it is another piece about the hardships of life for the working man and how lack of money doesn’t make you any less of a person.  The next song is the old classic, The Girls of Newfoundland and it is an absolute cracker of a song. From the opening guitar it catches your attention and tells its story as old as time. “You’ll find no girls to love you like the girls of Newfoundland” – simply gorgeous.

The Fox and the Hare has a nice accordion intro leading into a very wordy but humorous little ditty returning to the theme of courting, or the failures of it. The line “All the pretty little rabbits are engaging in their habits and they’ve all got a mate but me” sums it up perfectly. It is followed by another really beautiful song, Old Shoreline by Kat McLevey. It is a story about leaving and maybe returning with a story to tell. It has some nice harmonica and excellent guitar and banjo work that complement the vocals well.

For an album that is filled with fine harmonies and excellent musicianship, it is perhaps strange to say that my favourite track is one with just a single a cappela vocal. The Boys in Blue, an old song from the collection of Max F Hunter, is a simply spine-tingling and highly emotional piece and is one I will never tire of listening to.  It is beautifully sung and tells a heart-breaking tale of a sons return to his parents.

The Hard Times Song (Donahue/Aaron Collins) is up next and it is a good going, bouncy song that skips along with some great banjo and accordion backing and includes a nice key change before the sudden end. 

The Long Walk to Ferryland is another fine set of tunes with the banjo and accordion to the fore. Two traditional numbers are played either side of a Michael Boone tune and there is some more excellent banjo picking leading into a great final tune.

Another Fading Light is the second Jim Payne song on the album, this time about the changing world as a lighthouse becomes automated and people move on as the old ways fade away.  It is a very poignant song remembering “the days all of us were young” and it is a great way to close the album.

Produced by Billy Sutton and recorded at Pipetrack Productions in St. Johns, The Hard Times is an excellent album of fine tune sets and carefully chosen songs with fine folk vocals and it continues the rapid development of Rum Ragged as they represent the best that Newfoundland traditional music has to offer.

Hughie McNeill