?I?m where I?m supposed to be? 

As the host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s long-running Celtic music radio program The Green Island, Harry O’Donoghue is used to people recognizing his name and his husky brogue. In fact, his comforting presence as he waxes poetic on the joys of Irish song has no doubt directed scores of people to both sample and purchase such releases.

It also draws newcomers out to his own live performances. But sometimes, those in the audience don’t always know what to expect.

“I was doing a concert down at the community college in Brunswick,” recalls the fifty-one-year-old singer and guitarist. “And this lady came to the show because she’d been listening to me on the radio program for years, and she heard I’d be in town. But it turns out she had no idea that I was a musician as well.”

So what exactly did she think he was going to do on stage?

“I have no idea,” he chuckles. “Perhaps just sit and talk about records like I do on the radio! In the end, though, she wound up enjoying herself very much.”

That’s not hard to imagine. Harry’s decades of service to what Leonard Cohen once called “The Tower of Song” have left him with a wonderful repertoire of both traditional Irish folk tunes and contemporary compositions. The troubadour is a familiar name around these parts, having played more than a third of each year at Kevin Barry’s on River Street since relocating to Savannah from his native County Louth.

That was almost 25 years ago. Since then, he’s released one album for the giant European label Polydor, and seven more completely on his own, all of which remain in print and sell well at his live shows and through his website, www.harryodonoghue.com/.

His latest CD, Sincerely, has been available since May 2005, and showcases a side of the artist that he feels was absent from his last few albums. Three of those were recorded live onstage in an attempt to provide a keepsake for fans. Their tracklistings therefore featured his most popular selections, and there was no opportunity to finesse his own performances, or capture the particular mood he would have liked to.

“I was happy with the outcome of those live albums,” O’Donoghue admits. “But I didn’t feel I was truly getting across the more ‘gentle’ sound which is what I’m really all about. I find that my best performances are late at night when most people have gone and you can get soft and intimate with the crowd.”

“So, for this album, (co-producer) Phil Hadaway and I decided to leave all the technology behind. We recorded everything with one mic. If we wanted more volume, we’d move closer to the mic!”

O’Donoghue admits that approach was daunting. Hadaway enjoys a reputation as one of the finest recording engineers in the area, and something of a stickler for precision. Yet, the singer says that once they began, both men felt they were on the right path.

“The tendency is to fix things that aren’t quite perfect. Like singing a little off-pitch. We resisted those temptations.”

The resulting record is a tour de force for O’Donoghue and his small group of backing musicians, including locals Skip Graham (on guitar, bass and bass drone), Robert Willis (on harmony vocals), and Hadaway himself (on bass).

The album’s sixteen songs run the gamut from beloved traditionals such as “The Water Is Wide,” to more modern fare, like Tom Waits’ “The Briar and The Rose,” and Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”

“That last one always goes over well with the college crowds,” Harry notes.

Sincerely is already selling briskly at his gigs, and while O’Donoghue says he’d love to have an established distributor pick it up, after the trials and tribulations he’s suffered in past dealings with the music industry, he’s more than happy to simply sell the album himself.

“Realistically, nowadays, they’re not looking for a 50-year-old. Not a chance. But then again, I don’t answer to anyone.”

Harry O’Donoghue plays Kevin Barry’s Wednesday through Saturday night.


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Jim Reed

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