DÁIMH – Sula (Goat Island Music GIMCD006)

SulaDáimh’s new album, Sula, travels from Moidart to Mabou and back home again to the island of Bernera off the coast of Lewis (“during a stormy December”), with Scottish folk music filled with fire, melody, and an emotive heart. Dáimh – with three original members Angus MacKenzie, Gabe McVarish, and Ross Martin (bagpipes, whistles, fiddles, and acoustic guitar) are now joined with former Battlefield Band banjo and fiddle guy Alasdair White, and new people Murdo Cameron (accordion and mandola) and vocalist Ellen MacDonald.

Now, just so you know, Dáimh (pronounced “dive” and meaning “kinship” in their native Gaelic) formed in 2000 and recorded their first album, Moidart To Mabou, hence that earlier reference. Sula, being “the old Norse name for the Gannet, the largest seabird in Northern Europe”, is their eighth album, which adds a fresh “westlin wind” to their traditional sound.

Indeed, Sula evokes the stone circular axiom: Never say never. I just finished a review for the very great Scottish band, Dallahan; and in the process spun Manran, Malinky, Capercaillie, Five Hand Reel, Imar, Shooglenifty, Ossian, Lau, and while dipping deeply in my vinyl collection, those wonderful Gaugers (of Beware The Aberdonian fame!). But Sula proves, even after spinning all the great stuff, there never is an end to all the beautiful music flowing from the continuous melodic fount of ancient Caledonia.

The first tune, ‘If It Plays’, simply erupts with pipes and a strident acoustic guitar that probe any bonfire’s hot pulse into an evening’s celestial skies. It’s a nice dance. Then, new vocalist Ellen MacDonald sings ‘Chaidh Mis’ A dh’ Eubhal Imprig’ with a warm paint brushed Gaelic touch.

But there’s more fire with ‘Miss MacGregor’s Traditional Jigs’, which open the oven to both pipes and fiddle which conjure an elixir worthy of a MacBeth witch broth. And ‘Tha Ghaoth An Lar A’ Gobachadh’ sings with a subtle melody worthy of Ireland’s early Clannad earthy Celtic groove. Nice!

The instrumental ‘Puff Puff’ (nice title that!) answers all the tough crossword puzzle questions with melody to spar. Ditto for the fast-paced ‘Peggy Shrimpy Jonny’ (nice title that, too!) which veers off-kilter and pumps up a good bagpipe.

That said, and as said, never say never, as this music is yet another soundtrack to a rainy memory spent at the Clava Cairns, near the Culloden battle site. The weather was cold and abrupt, as were the cairns and standing stones, which were waiting in the rain, with melodic patience, to absorb thoughtful attention. In particular, the song ‘Taladh Choinnich Oig’, with its austere beauty, recalls that magical moment. This song touches a sacred spot. The same is true for ‘Ah Dubh Ghieannach’, which bleeds with warm loneliness in the midst of an always cold and abrupt history.

Then, the instrumental “Altsasaig’ is a four-square shanty tune that evolves into a colourful world music dance. Of course, this is the perfect prelude to the emotive finale, ‘Laoidh Fhearchair Eoghainn’, which begins with an accordion/vocal duet, but builds with whistle and fiddle passion, and then finishes, with Gaelic drama, with a lovely ebb tide vocal touch.

Yeah, years ago, (if the truth be told!) while in the Clava Cairns afternoon rain, my tourist hair, with proper respect, was also quite cold and very abrupt. But no matter, Dáimh’s new album, Sula, just like those ancient stones, is just waiting to absorb all of that thoughtful attention with music that is filled with that eternal fire, melody, and emotive heart.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website: www.daimh.net

‘Dhannsamaid Le Ailean’ – live: