DERVISH – The Great Irish Songbook (Rounder Records)

The Great Irish SongbookDervish release The Great Irish Songbook on April 12th. I don’t really need to say very much more to persuade anyone to give this a listen. But, since that would be a rather short review, I will do.

The Band – Dervish have been playing Irish traditional music for nearly thirty years – in festivals as large as Rock In Rio (to an estimated quarter of a million people) or sessions as small as those in Sligo pubs where they still enjoy playing. They have a line-up which includes some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians, fronted by one of the country’s best-known singers in Cathy Jordan. They’re renowned for live performances, dazzling sets of tunes and stunning interpretations of traditional songs.

The Music – Where would you start in choosing thirteen songs for an album called The Great Irish Songbook? How about ‘The Rambling Irishman’, ‘There’s Whiskey In The Jar’ and ‘Molly Malone’? These are the first three tracks on the album – all of them, I suspect, not only familiar to fans of Irish music but to anyone who has even a passing interest in listening to any kind music. Nor does the selection go downhill thereafter. Given the nature of this album, it’s probably worth listing the other tracks: ‘The Galway Shawl’, ‘She Moved Through the Fair’, ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’, ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, ‘On Raglan Road’, ‘Donal Og’, ‘The Fields Of Athenry’, ‘The May Morning Dew’, ‘The West Coast Of Clare’, finishing with (really, despite the Scottish claims to the song, what else would you chose?) ‘The Parting Glass’.

The Guests – The publicity for the album says “In assembling their line-up of featured guests, Dervish reached out to the many artists with whom they’ve bonded over a shared passion for Irish folk, then called on each musician to select their most cherished song within the genre. Recorded mainly at The Magic Room in Sligo, the finished product finds each collaborator imbuing the album with their own distinct sensibilities while lovingly upholding the time-honored character of the songs.” The guests on this album are a fine set of singers and players in their own right. They include: Steve Earle, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda May, Andrea Corr, Jamey Johnson, Kate Rusby, The Steeldrivers, Abigail Washburn, David Gray. They build on Dervish’s sound and, as Shakespeare might have it, their “friendship makes us fresh”.

I’ve enjoyed listening to this album, initially superficially but then much more closely. Firstly I’ve listened to the musicianship and the fresh approach to songs I’ve known for a while and, secondly, I realised I didn’t really know the history to many of these songs and have spent time researching them with the album playing at the same time. Some are newer than I’d realised, some much older. All give an insight into the history of Ireland, its music and, in some cases, its poetry.

If you’re well versed in the Irish tradition, this is a great album for hearing some different takes on songs – the video link below, for example, takes you to ‘The West Coast Of Clare’ and features David Gray. If you want to introduce yourself or someone else to The Great Irish Songbook, it’s a pretty good starting point.

Mike Wistow

Artists’ website:

‘The West Coast Of Clare’:

Celtic Skies featuring Andrea Corr & Damien Dempsey…

Celtic Skies is a collection of popular Irish and Scottish traditional songs recorded in a new, contemporary style. The album features various established Celtic  artists such as Andrea Corr , Damien Dempsey and Moya Brennan , together with young up and coming artists who all bring their unique interpretation to these much-loved classics. The production team behind the album, Jake Jacas and John Reynolds have worked with artists such as Sade and Ali Campbell through to Andrea Corr and Sinead O’Connor.

The album’s appeal spans all age groups and from the timeless beauty of songs such as ‘Black is the Colour’ – through to a passion fuelled rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland’– this album offers a stunning and modern interpretation of these iconic traditional songs.

About some of the featured artists:

When Bono stated recently, “I think she has one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced”, he was heralding what many people know already about The Voice of Clannad, Moya Brennan

Ben Thapa – Opera Magazine said, “beautiful tone and beautiful phrasing

Lumiere – Legendary Irish Record Producer John Reynolds said, “Pauline and Éilís have a rare and unique singing style I had never heard before. From the moment I heard their voices I knew we had to make an album. Discovering these songs through their voices lifted them into a place of real soulful tradition, ethereal but at same time modern. A pure joy.”

Damien Dempsey (The Irish Lion) – Roddy Doyle wrote that “the Irish are the blacks of Europe and Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland and the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin”. Born in Donaghmede on Dublin’s Northside in 1975, Damien Dempsey is the voice of that underclass and the quintessential Irish singer songwriter.

Celtic Skies Album Track Listing:

1. She Moved Through the Fair  – Featuring  Andrea Corr
2. Down by the Salley Gardens – Featuring  Moya Brennan
3. Oh Danny Boy – Featuring Rebecca Watson
4. Black is the Colour – Featuring Joanna Eden
5. The Last Rose of Summer  – Featuring  Lumiere
6. Rare Ould Times – Featuring Damien Dempsey
7. Heart of My Homeland – Featuring Joanna Eden
8. Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond – Featuring Ben Thapa
9. Mountains of Mourne – Instrumental
10. Flower of Scotland – Featuring Rebecca Watson
11.My Ain Folk – Featuring Ben Thapa
12. Water is Wide – Featuring Joanna Eden
13. Foggy Dew – Instrumental
14. Hills of the Dawn – Featuring Joanna Eden
15. Auld Lang Syne – Featuring Rebecca Watson