Dàibhidh Stiùbhard’s An Sionnach Dubh (aka The Black Fox) is an album that touches deep Irish roots and is graced with immense subtlety. Dàibhidh’s vocals glance with the pathos of heavy wisdom, and are framed with sympathetic violin, guitar, and button accordion.
A ghostly harmonium hums to welcome the tune ‘Úirchill An Chreagáin’, and the vocals softly soar with plaintive beauty while a fiddle weeps with harmony. This song evokes the same artistic soul of Iarla O’ Lionaird and The Gloaming’s passionate and patient Celtic sound.
‘The Stately Woods Of Truagh’ ups the tempo with English lyrics and a piano that vies with a violin’s taut soul that pulses the tune, while an accordion lands the song on a very flat Earth. This is quiet combustion of very old tinder that still sparks in our very modern nights.
‘A Stór Mó Chroí’ is simply acoustic guitar and vocal gorgeous. Again, the subtle immensity is warm with deep thought like, perhaps, a slow-motion rendition of Planxty’s yearning ‘Cliffs Of Dooneen’. This tune contemplates time, distance, and sad beauty, which, indeed, is “the story of the heart”. And fans of (the great) Len Graham and his band Skylark with find a kindred spirit with this record.
Now, in my Midwestern America, we have the Milwaukee Irish Fest. It’s a pretty big deal. And it extends an invitation to the music of Scotland (as does this album). There’s always a main stage. Trust me. I have avoided Dennis Day as he sang ‘Danny Boy’. And Gaelic Storm always plays to the crowd who loved that Titanic film. But, in fairness, I have seen Old Blind Dogs, The Saw Doctors, Shooglenifty, Wolfstone, Capercaillie, The Chieftains, and De Dannan (with both Mary Black and Dolores Keene on vocals!). But the real jewels are in the small tents. Here, it’s an attentive crowd who have come for a specific artist like Andy Irvine, Kevin Burke, or Donal Lunny’s Coolfin band. Dàibhidh and his Black Fox music will find a home here, with a deep reverential audience who know and love the purity of this music.
That said, the traditional stuff continues for a bit with ‘John Adair’, a lovely piano-violin laced tune that bleeds sad balladic drama. ‘The Overgate’ is an unaccompanied brief song that serves as a nice bridge to the (somewhat) current bouzouki and Eastern-flavoured ‘Vines On The Mountains’, with new lyrics (by D.S.) set to a traditional tune. The pace also quickens with ‘Kin Of Cú Chulainn’ (the very same Cú Chulainn, whom I believe, had something to with the cattle raid of an epic called The Tain, which I only know through a wonderful record by Ireland’s finest ever rock band, Horslips). The song sets Dàibhidh’s lyrics to music by P.J. McDonald. ‘Oran Eile Don Phrionnsa’ is a song credited to A. MacDonald, supposedly written after The Battle of Culloden, and according to liner notes from the Scottish band Daimh’s (very excellent!) Moidart To Mabou album which also includes the tune, “It is a song of incitement to rise again”.
This album is a bit of a Celtic acoustic prayer. The final song, ‘Belfast Market’, again, is a solo-voiced sad saga of a votive candled song. Now, to once again cite the bell cow of Irish folk-rock (and make a second bovine reference!), Horslips sang in The Book Of Invasion’s ‘Sideways To The Sun’, “We’re the mystery of the lake when the water’s still/We’re the laughter in the twilight/You can hear beyond the hill”. Surely, An Sionnach Dubh, like all wondrous Irish music, sings with that “mystery’ and that much needed “laughter beyond the hill”. So, yeah, this is an album of deep Irish roots that is simply graced with heavy melodic wisdom and immensely thoughtful subtlety.
Artist’s website: https://www.daibhidhstiubhard.com/
‘Oran Eile Don Phrionnsa’ – live: