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

‘The West Coast Of Clare’:

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:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Johnny Cash Forever Words (Legacy Recordings)

Forever WordsJohnny Cash: Forever Words (or, according to the physical CD, Johnny Cash The Music Forever Words) is a collaborative album consisting of 16 songs based on Johnny Cash’s unpublished poetry, lyrics, and letters.

Some of them are drawn directly from Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, described as “a volume of Cash’s unpublished writing edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon“. Indeed, it has been described as a “musical companion” to the book. The promo copy I received didn’t come with a lyric sheet or information apart from a track listing naming the artist(s) for each song. And a spectacular array of artists it is, too. But it would have been nice to have known more about the supporting personnel, for example.

Here are the tracks and artists.

1          ‘Forever / I Still Miss Someone’ is a poem read by Kris Kristofferson over Willie Nelson’s guitar, where Nelson picks out the tune to the classic ‘I Still Miss Someone’, a song written by Johnny Cash and Roy Cash Jr and recorded way back in 1958. Despite Cash’s awareness here of his own mortality, there’s no doubt that his songs will indeed “still be sung“.

2          ‘To June This Morning’, by Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves features Everly-ish harmonies over restrained banjo and guitar. Simple, short, effective.

3          ‘Gold All Over the Ground’ by Brad Paisley is a more mainstream country song/performance, but an excellent example of the genre.

4          ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ is sung by Chris Cornell, once described by Alice Cooper as “the best voice in rock and roll“, who died in May 2017. It has some of the feel of Cash’s last recordings.

5          ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ is performed by the Alison Krauss and Union Station. I’d crawl over glass to hear Krauss in any context, but, typically of her work with Union Station, there’s also some very nice instrumental work that doesn’t hurt my ears either. And it’s a fascinating story/song.

6          ‘Jellico Coal Man’, as performed by T Bone Burnett, captures nicely the feel of a typical Cash song (if there is such a thing) though the vocals are much lighter.

7          Rosanne Cash’s ‘The Walking Wounded’ is a slow ballad that reminded me a little of Mary Chapin Carpenter. Lovely.

8          While John Mellencamp has a voice all his own, I can certainly imagine ‘Them Double Blues’ in a Johnny-and-June concert performance, perhaps with a little more Luther Perkins “boom-chicka-boom” on the guitar. Sadly, that will have to remain a fantasy, unless some tribute act takes the hint.

9          Jewel’s ‘Body On Body’ starts off with folky acoustic guitar and builds into a ballad that shows off her vocal range to good effect.

10        On the whole, I like Elvis Costello’s songs more than his voice, but ‘I’ll Still Love You’ works well. If the lyric is less complex than you might expect, it melds very nicely with a typical Costello melody and layered orchestration.

11        Carlene Carter’s ‘June’s Sundown’ has a minor melody and instrumentation that recalls Eastern Europe rather than Memphis, but it’s perfect for the lyric.

12        ‘He Bore It All’ by Dailey & Vincent comes over as very mainstream bluegrass with a gospel theme and classy harmonies, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. As you’d expect.

13        ‘Chinky Pin Hill’ by I’m With Her, combines what sounds like a fretless banjo with cool twists of harmony and country fiddle. Fascinating: a trio I’d rather like to hear more of.

14        ‘Goin’, Goin’, Gone’ by Robert Glasper and featuring Ro James and Anu Sun, is in complete contrast, with more than a hint of Stevie Wonder in the arrangement and vocal delivery, but morphing into a spoken description of amphetamine addiction.

15        ‘What Would I Dreamer Do?’ is a nice country-rock performance by The Jayhawks.

16        Jamey Johnson is a new name to me, but ‘Spirit Rider’ is a fitting end to the album, though the tune is rather close to ‘Fields Of Gold’ at times.

This is a recording many people will want: fans of Johnny Cash, fans of one or more of the artists who participated, and anyone open to a rather different take on country music. Me, I’m off to find out more about some of the names here that are less familiar to me. And perhaps order the book…

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.JohnnyCashForeverWords.com

‘The Walking Wounded’ – Rosanne Cash:

Asleep at the Wheel – Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (Proper)

Asleep2Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, George Strait, and Lyle Lovett are just some of the guest artists on Asleep At The Wheel’s soon-to-be-released album Still the King: Celebrating The Music Of Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys.

Clearly, leader Ray Benson has some friends who respect his talent.

And why not? Ever since 1970, when Benson formed the now Austin, Texas-based group in Paw, Paw, Virginia, it’s preserved the Western Swing tradition of Bob Wills. This latest recording is the nine-time Grammy Award winning group’s third tribute to Wills.

But don’t let all the fancy, arena-filling names fool you into thinking that the music is anything but Western Swing at its finest.

It’s not a stretch to hear Merle Haggard’s distinctive vocals wrap smoothly around those of Asleep at the Wheel’s Emily Gimble on ‘Keeper of My Heart.’ They’re as natural as hearing Del McCoury – whose vocals enchanted everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the late Jerry Garcia – and his band perform ‘Silver Dew on the Bluegrass Tonight’ or Nelson joining the Quebe Sisters for a stunning performance of ‘Navajo Trail.’

Those songs and the others are brilliant and bewitching.

The real stand-out songs, though, are those where younger performers – including Brad Paisley, who lends virtuosic guitar work and vocals to ‘My Window Faces the South,’ and the Avett Brothers’ elegant performance on ‘The Girl I Left Behind,” – bolsters belief that Western Swing and its fans won’t fade away anytime soon.

Asleep At The Wheel doesn’t currently have any U.K. concert dates set, but this March 3 release is a terrific placeholder until they make their way back.

Nancy Dunham

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‘San Antonio Rose’ live: