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Artist: Dervish 
Label: Compass Records 
Length: 13 tracks/72:31
In all the time I have spent listening to music, I never found time to listen to tradition-based Irish folk music. It did not seem to be a particularly exciting path to take. The latest release by Dervish, their sixth, has shown me the error of my thinking.
Formed in 1988 by flute player Liam Kelly and accordionist Shane Mitchell, the group has won praise for their tight musical interplay and the glorious lead vocals of Cathy Jordan. Spirit is a stunning collection that even this novice listener can appreciate for it’s exceptional quality throughout.
The disc opens with the tune “ John Blessings,” which is a medley of four different reels, allowing the group to immediately display it’s instrumental virtuosity. But you won’t hear a string of solos by each band member. Dervish epitomizes the concept of ensemble playing. The group uses their talents to shine the focus on the tunes with fiddler Tom Morrow leading the way. On “Father Jack,” the group tackles a medley of jigs, this time weaving different instruments in and out of the mix for an exciting romp. Seamus O’Dowd’s guitar starts off the march portion of “The Beauties of Autumn.” The band plays the solemn tune to its seeming conclusion, only to break out Morrow’s fiddle to lead them into a hornpipe section followed by an up tempo return to the opening march section. This is the longest track on the disc and clearly shows the powerful playing that Dervish is capable of providing.
The other side of Dervish is their vocal work, featured on six tracks. O’Dowd takes the lead on “The Lag’s Song,” a mournful tune written to be the musical theme of a documentary film on prison life. With O’Dowd’s harmonica wailing in the background, this one sounds almost like a traditional blues song. It is followed by the ethereal lead vocal of Cathy Jordan on a cover of Dylan’s “ Boots of Spanish Leather.”  Another highlight is her take on a centuries-old Robert Burns penned song “ The Soldier Laddie,” which had me thinking of my own son as we wait for word on when his regiment will be returning home from Iraq. Jordan’s voice seems to float and glide above the instruments. Her best work is a hidden piece at the end of the final track. After about a minute of silence, Jordan’s voice suddenly appears singing an unnamed song accapella. It is an amazing display of vocal power and intensity that lasts for over four minutes.
This is some of the best music of any kind that I have heard in quite some time. I know I will be checking out their previous releases. You owe to yourself to give Dervish a listen. Spirit is a disc that will reward you time and again for your attention.
Mark Thompson
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