Dervish announce The Great Irish Songbook

Dervish

As one of the world’s most renowned and imaginative interpreters of Irish folk music, Dervish have devoted the last three decades to gently reinventing the traditional songs of their homeland. On their debut release for Rounder Records, the Sligo-based band join up with over a dozen luminaries across an eclectic range of genres.

Featuring guests Steve Earle, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Brendan Gleeson, Jamey Johnson, Kate Rusby, The SteelDrivers, Abigail Washburn and others, The Great Irish Songbook both preserves the spirit of each song and brings a new vitality to iconic traditional songs of their homeland.

Throughout The Great Irish Songbook, Dervish build off the dynamic they’ve brought to their thirteen previous albums and dazzling live performance: a kinetic union of technical brilliance and undeniable soul, endlessly fortified by their immense creativity. With the help of their guest artists, Dervish’s intricately sculpted sound expands and widens and takes on new textures, revealing the limitless possibilities within a single song. The result is an album that instantly transports you to a more charmed state of mind and-like all the most illuminating journeys-imparts a deeper understanding of what’s most essential in life.

Produced by Graham Henderson (a musician known for his work with artists like Sinéad O’Connor), The Great Irish Songbook delivers some of the best-loved songs in the Irish tradition. In assembling their lineup 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 Great Irish Songbook encompasses everything from lovelorn ballads to traditional dance music to songs customarily sung at funerals, its moods continually shifting from longing to joy to delicately rendered heartache.

Within its first few tracks alone, The Great Irish Songbook shows the extraordinary scope of the album and the musicianship behind it. On “There’s Whisky in the Jar,” Nashville-based bluegrass band The SteelDrivers channel their freewheeling energy into one of the most widely performed traditional Irish tunes of all time (recorded by everyone from Thin Lizzy to Metallica to Jerry Garcia).

Poetry also infuses much of The Great Irish Songbook, such as on the Kate Rusby-sung rendition of “The Sally Gardens” (a W.B. Yeats-penned serenade) and the D.K. Gavan-authored “Rocky Road To Dublin,” a 19th-century story-song delivered with unabashed brio by famed Irish actor and part-time fiddle player Brendan Gleeson. Meanwhile, “On Raglan Road” transforms Patrick Kavanagh’s lovesick verse into a moment of sublime melancholy, thanks in no small part to the tender tenor of country star Vince Gill.

One of the two newly written pieces on The Great Irish Songbook has Steve Earle accompanying Dervish for a wistful yet rousing version of “The Galway Shawl,” closing out the track with a full-hearted sing-along.

Through the years, Dervish have toured the globe and shared stages with the likes of James Brown, Neil Young, and Sting, becoming the first Irish band ever to play Rock in Rio (the world’s most massive music festival), and steadily making their name as one of the foremost purveyors of Irish folk music.

As they approach their 30th anniversary, Dervish again prove the enduring significance of even the most timeworn songs. And in a way not unlike the folk revival of the 1960s, much of The Great Irish Songbook celebrates a spirit of togetherness, with a conviction that’s gracefully understated but powerfully felt. For Dervish, that sense of community and connection is both an ideal takeaway for the album and the driving force of its creation.

Accordionist Shane Mitchell, a founding member of the band, noted, “With this record we brought in people from genres sometimes totally unrelated to what we do, but still found a way to create some beautiful music together.” He reflects, “I think that’s an incredibly important thing to consider in life as well, especially now: everyone can find a way to collaborate, even if you’re coming from what feels like completely different places.”

In the coming weeks, Dervish will announce full details of The Great Irish Songbook Live, a show that will begin touring internationally in late 2019 and will feature guests from the album.

Artists’ website: https://www.dervish.ie/

‘As I Roved Out’ – live with Kate Rusby and Kevin Burke:

STICK IN THE WHEEL – Follow Them True (From Here)

Follow Them TrueLet me start by confessing that I never quite took to their hugely acclaimed 2015 debut, but the arrival of their English Folk Field Recordings collaborative project prompted a reassessment and, with the arrival of their own second album, I’ve become a decided convert.

I won’t bother going over the usual stuff regarding their no-nonsense raw and unvarnished approach to folk, whether it be traditional numbers or their own, or singer Nicola Kearey’s abrasive in your face East End vocals, both of which firmly set them apart from their peers, rather let’s address what they’ve done with it this time around, introducing new electronic sounds but still balancing familiar and more obscure traditional numbers with self-penned material focused around those on the peripheries of society, rituals, the way the past repeats itself and the power to change ourselves and the world in which we live.

That idea of breaking free of the cycle underpins the album’s uncompromising, forceful opening stomp ‘Over Again’, Simon Foote’s thumping bass drum beat underpinning Ian Carter’s urgent circling resonator guitar riff as Kearey raises blisters on the la la la la chorus. The first of the traditional numbers comes with the ‘Weaving Song’, a Scottish ballad celebrating the weaver’s craftsmanship taken, on acoustic guitar and Ellie Wilson’s fiddle, at a similarly jaunty pace as when Sandra Kerr (mother of Nancy) and John Faulkner performed it on Bagpuss back in 1974.

Alternating sources again, built on a slow, stately melody, Kearey’s echoey vocals accompanied by deep and heady accordion drone and violin, ‘Witch Bottle’ is an original number that takes its title from a 17th century ritual about stoneware containers used to ward off spells, which, in turn, heralds the clumping, breathless pace of the recorder and fiddle lashed ‘White Copper Alley’, a 19th century account of a woman who, driven to prostitution, steals one of her clients’ watch and wallet to buy medicine for her sick son, the track coming to strikingly abrupt halt on the word “dead”.

Taken at a slow, almost funereal march and heavily electronic with Fran Foote’s accordion drone, the haunting title track ballad follows, making effective use of Autotune on Kearey’s voice even if it does slightly obscure the lyrics, which, in the line about “when the hour is come”, seem to be about death. The vocals are again treated on ‘100,000 Years’ to give them a distant, echoey feel in keeping with the brooding sonic aura engendered by the handclap percussion and the unsettling swirls of guitar, drone, violin, keys and recorder.

As any good folkie knows, the ‘Abbots Bromley Horn Dance’ is a traditional dance tune, one of the oldest known, a jig that gradually builds in tempo and here given a fairly straightforward treatment, although the fiddle-led galumphing and whistle does remind me of Stackridge.

Like the album opener, the traditional highwayman song ‘Roving Blade’ is another urgent rhythm driven by Carter’s nervy riffs and Kearey’s forceful delivery, but then the ambience changes dramatically for what is possibly the album’s most striking number. Although the title and idea are similar, ‘Unquiet Grave’ is not the much-covered traditional song but a band original sung, essentially about remembering the buried past, unaccompanied as Kearey takes on the voice of a corpse unable to rest because of the feet trampling the earth above them, unable to move and wasting away “day by sorry day”. It is, quite, simply, one of the most chilling songs I’ve ever heard.

It’s back to tradition, in form and inspiration if not actuality, for the story-song ‘Blind Beggar Of Bethnal Green’, an acoustic waltzing number (the title part referencing the famous East End pub where Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell) retelling the legend of how Simon de Montford, a local knight, was blinded in a battle and subsequently became a beggar until found and taken in by a noblewoman, whom he married and with whom he had a daughter, Besse.

The last of the original numbers, ‘Red Carnation’, a sparse reverb and emotion-soaked song of farewell, is sandwiched between two traditional tunes. The first, the call and response shanty ‘Poor Old Horse’ is sung a cappella, Kearey providing the verses and everyone joining rowdily in for the chorus response, the album ending on an electronic fog of pulsing synth and claps like firewood crackles enshrouding the distant ghostly vocals as they dismantle ‘As I Roved Out’ and recraft it for a post-apocalypse folk vision. In speaking of the idea behind the album Kearey talks about thematically focusing on “English stuff”, because it’s weird, dark, surprising, unashamedly odd and has a personality of its own. She could equally be describing the band.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.stickinthewheel.com

‘As I Roved Out’ – official video: