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TV REVIEW : 'Irish' an Enjoyable Rock, Folk Travelogue

March 17, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For St. Patrick's Day viewing, if you can't dig up that old tape of John Belushi waxing convulsive about "the luck of the Irish," the next best bet is the Disney Channel special "Irish Music and America . . . A Musical Migration," a travelogue with contemporary rock and folk singers tracing their musical lineage back to the Blarney Stone, as it were.

U2's Bono talks about arriving in Memphis and realizing just how inherently Irish the original American roots-rock that had its sway on him was. Elvis Costello, an Englishman with a home in Ireland, speaks of discovering one's musical heritage not necessarily "in a scholarly way" but as "to pick it apart like a child with a toy"; upon tinkering, he finds the direct line from Scottish murder ballads to the Louvens to the Everly Brothers to the Beatles.

The performances here constitute the biggest draw for music buffs: With assistance from the Edge, Bono sings "A Wild Irish Rose," an ironic ballad inspired by seeing downtown L.A.'s Skid Row denizens drinking the titular booze. A bit of a new murder ballad of Costello's own, "Mischievous Ghost," pops up. Richard Thompson, the Everlys, Luka Bloom, the Clancy Brothers and others put in passing vocal appearances.

Narrator Emmylou Harris--no stranger to trios--joins up with Irishwomen Mary Black and Dolores Keane for the traditional "Sonny," as lovely as you'd expect.

Buffs may lament, though, that the songs are all cut up or briefly excerpted--a particular liability when dealing with curiosities like unreleased U2 and Costello stuff--so that Harris can go back to narrating the historical sorry lot of the Irish, making the special slightly too sober as well as frustrating.

* "Irish Music and America . . . A Musical Migration" premieres on the Disney Channel at 10:05 tonight.

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