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

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‘The West Coast Of Clare’:

Cathy Jordan – All the Way Home

Dervish front-woman, Cathy Jordan finally presents her eagerly anticipated debut solo album. A more sparse offering than the vibrant sounds produced by Dervish, All The Way Home presents an opportunity to focus on Jordan’s vocal prowess, and it’s an opportunity that rewards the listener handsomely. A largely subdued affair, with some inspired and original interpretations of familiar traditional material, it frequently allows Jordan the opportunity to demonstrate a subtle yet utterly disarming potency.

Minimal accompaniment alongside a sparse but determined vocal restores the humanity and poignancy to stories that have long been lost within the high jinx of beer-swilling, bawdy sing-alongs. Suddenly, “Bold Fenian Men” is less a triumphant celebration of rebellion, and more a moving personal recollection of individual characters, their families and the heart-wrenching realities of a lifetime’s struggle. “Eileen McMahon” is delivered as a beautifully sumptuous duet with Eddi Reader, and yields a similarly unique and solitary tale, making a devastatingly stirring impression.

With lyrics built from the excerpts of a Patrick Devine poem, “In Curraghroe” is worth singling out, offering an insight in to the loneliness of rural life alongside the rapturous joys of the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding landscape.

There are moments of exuberance here too, nestled amongst the earnest memories. Punctuating the more candid, personal tales are a few instrumental tracks featuring contemporary compositions, written firmly within the Irish traditional style, that speak of life’s pleasures with a spirit and energy that words could not match. “Ould Ballymoe” takes a fair shot at this however, offering a carefree and colourful vignette of village life.

Jordan’s voice is instantly recognisable, with a diction and tone that maintains her Irish accent prominently, contributing to her distinctive, unique sound. The very fact that Jordan’s voice alone has so much to offer means that the “less is more” maxim is certainly something that works well for her, and further exploration of the more stripped-back production that works so well here would doubtlessly produce a timeless, attractive and edifying body of work.

Mike Wilson

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Cathy Jordan – All The Way Home

Musician and vocalist Cathy Jordan, long time member of multi-award winning traditional Irish band Dervish, will launch her debut solo album on 2nd April 2012.  Cathy’s first ever performance as a solo artist took place on Friday 20th January at the Tron Theatre at the Celtic Connections Festival.  The gig featured guest appearances from album contributors including fellow Dervish star Liam Kelly, flute/whistle legend Michael McGoldrick and members of Swedish band Väsen.

The new album, All The Way Home, is the highly anticipated solo showcase of the musical and vocal talents of the Roscommon native. This seminal work, some twenty years in the making, features many of the most notable names in the folk world, both at home in Ireland and abroad.  All The Way Home, which was produced in Sweden by acclaimed producer, multi-instrumentalist and long time collaborator Roger Tallroth, intimately communicates the rich cultural tapestry resulting from Cathy’s unique musical and personal journey from early childhood through her professional success to date.

All The Way Home allows the listener a glimpse into a more personal side of Ms. Jordan’s life. Among the twelve tracks are traditional ballads Cathy would have heard sung in the family home from the earliest age. Performing these songs with family and friends was a fundamental part of family life and became embedded in Cathy’s musical psyche. They are songs that now represent the tradition of her childhood, a tradition that has experienced a renaissance of interest in recent times. For this reason Cathy wanted to reintroduce these songs to a new generation with a vibrant and contemporary energy, whilst retaining some of the traditional methods of how they were intended to be performed. To achieve this Cathy worked with acclaimed musicians such as Roger Tallroth (guitars), Gustaf Ljunggren (lap steel/banjo/piano) and Lars Andreas Haug (tuba) of Sweden, Ireland’s Andy Irvine and the distinctive sounds of singer song-writer Eddi Reader with whom she duets on Eileen McMahon.  Also featured are Michael McGoldrick on uileann pipes, Rick Epping on concertina and harmonica, Seamie O’Dowd on fiddle, Liam Kelly on flute among others

To write a fitting chapter to the story that is All The Way Home Cathy includes four of her own songs, which mirror an early chapter and somewhat of a conclusion to developments in Cathy’s own life.  The first of these The Road I Go, co-written with Brendan Graham, tells the story of the restlessness of youth, of a young person bored with the familiar surroundings and experiences of home and longing to see the world and what it has to offer, yet well prepared by a strong sense of place and family. The final song, and title track to the album, tells the opposite story, a story of a longing to return to the familiarity of home after seeing what the world actually has to offer and finally realizing that ‘home’ is where the heart belongs.

For Cathy there is special place in her heart for this album; “These singing sessions and songs provided the soundtrack to my life for many years.  Every social occasion had a singing session to mark it; births, deaths marriages’, christenings, house Stations, Easter, Christmas; you name it we sang our way through it.”

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Artist Web link: www.cathyjordan.com