DALLAHAN – Speak Of The Devil (own label DHLN004CD)

Speak Of The DevilAbout Dallahan’s new album, Speak Of The Devil: Well, let’s just say (to sort of quote Chuck Berry!), “Roll over Manran and tell Malinky the news”. Truly, I love those bands, but Dallahan, with their fourth record now filled with self-composed songs and tunes, certainly adds to the wonderful tradition of modern Scottish folk music.

That said, the first instrumental is the fiery-pulsed ‘Beaton’s’, which showcases the dexterity of Ciaran Ryan – an all-Britain banjo champion – as he is in a melodic yet quite heated conversation with new guy Benedict Morris’ fiddle, Andrew Waite’s accordion, and the acoustic strum of Jack Badcock’s guitar. The whole thing nestles (with fluttered fury!) somewhere between the nimble wisdom of Ireland’s Patrick Street with Kevin Burke, Jackie Daily, Andy Irvine, and Arty McGlynn, set against the young fire the Isle of Man’s favorite sons Tomas Callister, Jamie Smith, and Adam Rhodes and their band Barrule.

The same is true for the bouncy ‘Bindofin’, which to quote Ireland’s Horslips, and grooves “sideways to the sun”. The tune finds hidden melodic treasure in the nuances cut into aged stones with Pictish mystery.

Then, the weird instrument journey of ‘A Terrible Beauty’ simply dances across the universe with melody, drama, mystery, and a bit of lucky pluck. It’s a quite clever condensed (but not intended) soundtrack to Robert Burns’ epic ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ poem. And, for the non-Burns buffs, that story begins, of course, with our ‘Tam’ quite drunk (with an angry wife at home!); and while riding on his always faithful grey mare Meg, he encounters a church full of witches, warlocks, and the Devil himself playing bagpipes! Upon spying one witch, dressed in a rather short dress, he comments, “Weel done cutty-sark!” This, through time, of course translates into something akin to the words of that other purveyor of poetic dissipated profundity, Hank Williams, with his culinary lyricism, “Say hey, good lookin’ – what’s ya got cookin’?”. Well, as can be imagined given the circumstances, that’s not the thing to say, and the chase is on, until, thankfully, Tam and Meg reach the River Doon, which all the witches, warlocks, and the Devil himself (possibly still playing those demonic bagpipes!) for some reason or other cannot cross. Sadly though, one witch, in a final act of evil, snatches poor Meg’s tail, which is lost into the misty time and tide of the always tragic Scottish folklore enchantment.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “All great Scottish folk music is an attempt, in a Tam O’ Shanter way, to simply say, ‘Sorry about the tail, Meg’”.

And, “For a’ that, an’ a’ that”, it’s a pretty great tune.

Now, somewhere between the instrumental workouts exists ‘Marina’, a song with an urgent vibe and a lightly-touched vocal. The tune recalls the more acoustic sound of (the great!) Wolfstone. Now, it’s just an idea, but sometimes, the isolated ‘song’ quells the instrumental fire and shines a spotlight on the singer-songwriter. But this doesn’t happen here. Jack Badcock sings the song, while the band weaves a Gordian Knot of interwoven instrumental prowess. Nice.

There are more songs. ‘Rude Spanish Soil’ sings an interesting lyric against a “star-crossed” full band fire. And ‘The Picture On The Wall’ manages to (this time!) quell that fire with a passionate song that drips with banjo, accordion, and fiddled sympathy. The song gently waters a melodic garden. The vocal beauty continues with ‘The Bullet And The Blade’, a dramatic folk fused tune with more interesting lyrics that, once again, weaves high drama into an accordion and fiddle sun-stetted song.

Then, with an even balance, there’s more great instrumental stuff. ‘Dunbar Square’ starts and stops with banjo precision, grooves with fiddle fire, and dips and dives with accordion humour into a Balkan folk dance persona. Nice, again!

And ‘Alma’s’ is an easy banjo glide with a wonderful fiddle ride and the soft undercurrent of a songbird accordion.

The final breath, ‘Anchor’, swirls with delight. The tune slow-dances with a nice tapped banjo sequence into a barn burning folk that kicks up the late evening revelry and leaves drunken sawdust in the dry gulp with the happy exhaustion of an early morning Scottish traditional folk sunrise.

And finally, while avoiding Tam’s skimpy skirt comment (!!) but adding yet another sympathetic nod to the always faithful grey mare, Meg, who in epic Scottish fashion has been left with “scarce a stump” in that always tragic enchantment of Scottish folklore — let’s just say, “Weel done” Dallahan!

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website: https://www.dallahanmusic.com/

‘Marina’ – live: