Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a-walkin’ down by the seaside
Now mark what followed and what did betide
For it bein’ on Christmas mornin’
Now, for recreation, we went on a tramp
And we met sergeant Napper and corporal Vamp
And a little wee drummer intending to camp
For the day bein’ pleasant and charmin’
We have another 19th century Irish Ballad coming to you today, this time it is Arthur McBride by Bob Dylan from his 1992 album Good as I Been To You. According to Wiki: it was first collected around 1840 in Limerick by Patrick Weston Joyce; also in Donegal by George Petrie. The song expressed the sentiment that not all the young Irish were willing to fight war for the British crown. The song can be narrowly categorized as an “anti-recruiting” song, a specific form of anti-war song, and more broadly as a protest song.
It took me some time to appreciate the album Good as I Been To You. Some songs made an immediate impact like Jim Jones and Canadee i-o, but others like Arthur McBride and Hard Times were an acquired taste. The album is composed entirely of traditional folk songs and it’s also his first album not to feature any original songs since Dylan 1973. I really admire his guitar playing on this album. I haven’t really heard the acoustic guitar played like that before. How Dylan strums and picks the guitar can’t be replicated – Good as I Been To You is surely the best testament to that! It’s his first solo acoustic album since Another Side of Dylan in 1964. Good as I Been To You also resurrected Dylan with critics after getting panned for Under the Red Sky.
I really like what Dylan has done with this old Arthur McBride song. The timbre of his voice and focus of his phrasing really elevates this song. He of course sung traditional folk songs all the time in his early years, but they were more topical / political in nature where as this compilation go back at least a century. Dylan mentioned once in an interview that he could have imagined himself being a heroic military officer dying on a battlefield somewhere. Arthur McBride and Good as I Been To You overall seems to be him tapping into this very – very old folkloric wellspring when people were behest to destitution and war – ‘hard times’ if you will. When you listen to these tracks sometimes you catch a glimpse of what it must have ‘really’ been like back then. Dylan’s music has always been a portal to another time in our history. Like how David Sexton pointed out in his review of the album “Dylan sounds now, in comparison to his younger self, like one of those ghosts, but a powerful ghost.‘
I really like Rosanne Cash’s story about Paul Brady’s recording of Arthur McBride (see video below). She wrote a blog post for the New York Times and below were her remarks about it:
‘The first thing my husband, John Leventhal, ever gave me, shortly after we met, was a cassette mix tape he had put together of some of his current favorite songs. On that tape was Paul Brady’s eight-verse version of “Arthur McBride,” a gorgeous, lilting Irish folk song…
I must have listened to “Arthur McBride” a thousand times. It made me want to marry John Leventhal. I did marry him. A couple of years after that, we went together to Aberdeen, Scotland, to tape “Transatlantic Sessions,” a music show that puts American and Scottish and Irish musicians together to see what they will come up with. I sat on the floor in the corner of a little room at an inn where we were taping, a few feet from Paul Brady, with no one else in the room but him and the camera operators, and listened to him sing “Arthur McBride.” It remains one of the greatest live performances I’ve ever seen, and a moment I’ll never forget.’
Dylan’s Arthur McBride is unavailable on you tube, but you can find his recording temporarily set at the top of my blog – all rights reserved – Columbia records.