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Stay in tune for St. Patrick's Day

Written in 1947 by Hy Heath and Johnny Lange, this pugnaciously daft ditty indulged the stage Oirish stereotype of a character getting "his Irish up," which invariably led to fisticuffs. But all I knew was that I had the third lead in the pageant, my parents were in the audience, and I wore a green tie, green bowler, green socks, and brandished a green plastic shillelagh as I belted out from memory all six verses, plus the chorus with some classmates.

After the pageant ended, I walked across the school hall to my father for his reaction, and he turned to the pageant-organizing nun. "Well, Sister, what did you think of Earle's performance?" my dad asked her.

She had an ashen look on her face. I thought she was about to launch into a sweat or the rosary. Her pause seemed Paleozoic in duration. Then she spoke: "Earle could be heard clearly in the back of the hall."

That was it.

"Clancy Lowered the Boom" had lowered the boom on my singing career. "Before you could stack your cue in the rack," "before you could pat the top of your hat," and "before you could shout 'O'Leary, look out,'" my hope had curdled into nope.

Because I know what it's like to dispense pain in the guise of a musical performance, I have listed five new or recent albums here that I think will shake off the shamrocks-and-shillelaghs style of music tending to dominate and irritate during this time each year.

Happy St. Patrick's Day. And beware ten-year-olds flailing plastic shillelaghs.

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"Exiles Return" (Compass) by Karan Casey and John Doyle: This is the best album of Irish singing I've heard so far this year. (See last week's "Ceol" column review.)

"Ceol & Cuimhne" (Gael Linn) by Teada: This is the best album of Irish instrumental music I've heard so far this year. Oisin Mac Diarmada, one of Ireland's most virtuosic fiddlers, continues to coax excellence from the band he founded.

"Faoi Bhlath" (Keltia Musique) by Dave Sheridan, Ciaran Somers, and Nicolas Quemener: Offaly-born fiddler Sheridan, Carlow native flutist Somers, and Breton guitarist Quemener, a former member of Arcady, have fashioned a frills-free CD of substance.

"Short Stories" (self-issued) by Grainne Murphy: From Boston, where she took lessons from one of the greatest fiddlers in the history of Irish music, Clare-born Seamus Connolly, Murphy was a corporate lawyer for two years before chucking her legal briefs and heading to New York City to write fiction and play Irish traditional music. The latter won out, although she applied the structure of a short-story collection to the tunes she plays on this fine solo CD debut. Visit www.grainnemurphy.com. You can also catch her with Isaac Alderson on uilleann pipes, flute, and whistle and Alan Murray on guitar and bouzouki from 9 p.m. to midnight on Sundays at Pig 'n Whistle, 951 Second Ave. (between 50th & 51st), Manhattan.

"Happy Days" (self-issued) by Caladh Nua: Hailing from Carlow, Waterford, and Kilkenny, this relatively new quintet display a Solas-like swagger in their tune arrangements. There's also a tantalizing touch of vintage 1960s/1970s trad sound from the ensemble. Main vocals are by Lisa Butler, but the standout song is Richard Thompson's "Bee's Wing," sung by Colm O Caoimh. It's a magnificent miniaturist portrait of a woman "fine as a bee's wing" but "with the rambling itch," "a lost child, oh, she was running wild," all recalled wistfully by a former lover from the 1960s counterculture. The insight of these lines floored me: "And they say her flower is faded now / Hard weather and hard booze / But maybe that's just the price you pay / For the chains you refuse."