CARA DILLON – Upon A Winter’s Night (Charcoal CHARCCD008)

upon a winter's nightIn the absence this year of a new Kate Rusby festive collection for folk fans to warm their chilly cockles, Cara Dillon, aided and abetted by husband, musical partner and producer Sam Lakeman, steps up to the seasonal plate for her first Christmas offering, Upon A Winter’s Night, an 11-string stockingsworth of traditional nuggets, hymns and originals.

It’s one of the latter, the title track, written by Sam and Noah Lakeman, that kicks things off, a jaunty Nativity scene setter that also features Uilleann pipes, Luke Daniels on accordion and Kathryn Roberts on backing vocals. There’s three other originals, Cara and Sam providing the piano backed ‘Standing By My Christmas Tree’ with its interpolation of ‘Silent Night’ and bells-pealing keyboard notes as well as the simply arranged lullaby closer ‘Mother Mary’, he on acoustic guitar and she joined on vocals in the final refrains by a family affair of Colm, Noah and Elizabeth Lakeman. The third is Sam’s own instrumental contribution, a lively woodland romp with ‘The Huntsman’, again featuring Jarlath Henderson on Uilleann pipes and Daniels on accordion alongside fiddle from Niall Murphy and James Fagan’s bouzouki with Ben Nicholls providing stalwart bass.

The other numbers are the couple’s arrangements of, by and large, very familiar seasonal tunes, first up, introduced by Murphy’s fiddle sounding like a hunting horn, being a traditional folk-sounding reading of ‘The Wexford Carol’ that gathers to fulsome fiddle finale. Rather less known, based on a traditional Polish carol, ‘Infant Holy, Infant Lowly’ is another lowing lullaby and introduces John Smith on guitar. Considerably better known is the evergreen ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, here taken at a swayalong tempo on the back of fiddle, pipes and accordion and featuring guest viocals from both Roberts and Sam’s father, Geoff.

By contrast, while often given a rousing chorus flourish, here ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ is an altogether more contemplative affair etched out by just her voice and Sam’s piano, a fine companion piece to the wholly a capella ‘O Holy Night’, Adolphe Adams’ 19th century setting and translation of a French poem (Midnight Christians) on which she duets with older sister Mary, their version joining a list that includes Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Bing Crosby and, more recently, Ellie Goulding.

This is, in turn, followed by another breath of fresh winter air with ‘Mary Bore A Son To God’, one of the earliest known Irish language carols and sung here in the original Gaelic (‘Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia’),a slightly softer reading than that previously done by Horslips with Henderson’s Wilson taking the fiddle parts.

Finally, once whisperingly recorded by Bono, there’s another traditional Irish carol, ‘The Darkest Midnight’, which taken from the Kilmore Carols collection of South Wexford (albeit a trimmed down version) is again arranged for just her voice and Sam’s acoustic guitar and piano, another lovely grace note to a collection that very much has its mind set on celebrating the real meaning of Christmas. A touch more contemplative than Rusby’s South Yorkshire offerings perhaps, but likely to prove an equally enduring bauble on folk’s festive fir.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.caradillon.co.uk

KRISTA DETOR Barely (Tightrope 255 114)

KRISTA DETOR Barely (Tightrope 255 114)Krista Detor’s latest album, her sixth, is described as “spare” and “pared down” but I rather like it that way. The songs are predominant but there is always enough going on in the background with Krista’s guitar, accordion and keyboards and partner and producer David Weber’s guitar keeping things interesting. Anne Hurley adds cello to one track and vocalists Amanda Biggs, Mary Dillon and Moira Smiley add richness to the sound.

The album opens with ‘Can I Come Over’, the song of a woman on the verge of desperation. It’s clever, witty and rather infectious for something that should exude sadness. If Krista herself is the subject then she manages to step back from her own feelings and almost laugh at herself. ‘From The Pedestal’ and ‘All The Calls’ contain similar elements of self reproach and ‘For All I Know’ is mournful but with a thread of humour that leavens the melancholy.

Barely closes with two bonus tracks, sub-titled The Irish Sessions. The first, ‘The Coming Winter’, features Mary Dillon and is a beautifully languid piano ballad – the sort of song that will emerge in a few years covered by someone with a wider appeal and be a big hit. The second, ‘Sweet Comes The Sound’ has a spiritual feel as it weaves lines from Christmas carols into its narrative. It’s a beautiful way to end the set.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Castle In Wales’ live:

Krista Detor – new album and tour dates

Krista Detor - new album and tour dates

Krista Detor’s solo albums have reached national and international prominence, including No1 on the Euro-Americana Chart, and placement within the top 10 of the U.S. Folk and Independent Music charts, but she is no ordinary songwriter: Detor has been involved in several award-winning collaborations, including the highly-acclaimed Wilderness Plots, (PBS national), for which she and fellow writers, including American College of Arts & Letters inductee author Scott Russell Sanders, were recognized by the Indiana Legislature for contributions to the arts (2010), and which resulted in two Emmy nominations and a Golden Eagle award.

A collection of songs that are spare, pared-down; the new album, Barely, utilizes only one or two instruments to give ground to the work. The title reflects the content: close to the bone, no ornamentation, bare.

Produced by Krista’s partner, David Weber, at Airtime Studios in Bloomington, Indiana, the album itself speaks to the Indiana countryside, and embodies a strong Americana and roots bent.

Guest vocal artists include a handful of the most talented women in music: Moira Smiley of Solas, the brilliant Amanda Biggs, and Northern Ireland’s stunning Mary Dillon with whom Detor has collaborated on a duet about the human cost of war entitled, ‘The Coming Winter’.

The songs are at times vulnerable, at times mournful, yet always hopeful – in Krista’s inimitable style. With the help of a few of her friends, the vocals are gorgeous. David Weber brings a variety of backing guitar and vocal lines to the pieces, as does Krista’s long-time cellist, Anne Hurley.

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Mary Dillon releases debut album ‘North’ on 4th February

Mary Dillon NorthIrish folk singer Mary Dillon will release her first full length solo album, North, next month after a prolonged hiatus from the music scene.

Formerly the lead singer in well-known 90’s folk band Déanta, Mary has had a long absence from the music scene, but returns with a renewed energy after 15 years to release an acoustic album of Irish folk songs old and new.

Mary shares the pure and haunting vocal tone associated with her younger sister Cara Dillon, one of the biggest names on the UK and international folk scene. North will showcase the unique quality and maturity of Mary’s voice through a diverse collection of folk songs from the Ulster singing tradition.

The album was recorded in Mary’s home town of Dungiven, Co. Derry, and co-produced with her nephew Odhrán Mullan. It will feature contributions from an array of talented traditional musicians, including composer Neil Martin, Eamon McElholm (Solas), and Cara Dillon.

Several times winner of the All-Ireland Singing Trophy, Mary’s voice has achieved cult status over the years, and fans who cherish the modest collection of recordings she has to her name will be happy to finally own her first full-length record this February.

North will be released on Back Lane Records on 4th February 2013Full track listing:

1) When A Man’s In Love  2) Ballyronan Maid  3) The Boatman

4) The Banks of Claudy  5) Edward On Lough Erne Shore  6) Bleacher Boy

7) John Condon  8) Knocknashee  9) The Month of January

10) Ard Ti Chuain

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