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The Redcastle Sessions
Artist: Cara Dillon (
Label: Proper Films 
Length: 81 minutes  

Other than Michelle Tumes, Cara Dillon has possibly the most beautiful voice that I have ever heard sing. Being Irish is a great start, but she also has a crystalline purity, warmth and a soft breathy edge to her voice that combine to make her an outstanding singer. This, her first DVD, is an excellent setting for what is a live-but-not-live release.
The idea was to gather a bunch of top class musicians to spend a week playing in a rented home on the edge of Loch Foyle in County Donegal in Northern Ireland. These were sessions, so no audience was involved, but the takes were live. The format works well, as it allows for different moods. The first four tracks are daytime work, but the next two have a more intimate, night-time atmosphere. The musicians are all circled together for “I Wish You Well,” rather than being spread around the large lounge area as they are for the daytime shots, and, centrally lit, the togetherness in spirit is more palpable. The closeness gets even more intense for “If I Prove False,” where Dillon is joined only by the surprisingly gravel-voiced John Smith for a fireside duet with candles. This is a tender love ballad, where sparks fly, thanks to a simple arrangement, poignant lyrics, and the outstanding duo putting their hearts into the song.
Songs are, of course, at the core of such a set, and there are some fine ones here. The most striking pair from her self-titled collection are here: the BBC award-winning “Black is the Colour” and the snappily-titled “I am a Youth that’s Inclined to Ramble,” both traditional pieces with a simple, fresh arrangement. “October Winds” and the beautiful “Never in a Million Years” are among Dillon and Sam Lakeman’s best original songs. “There were Roses” is a very poignant Tommy Sands piece about tit-for-tat killings during ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, well placed at the end of the set, before a contrasting, lighter bonus track comes in, recorded at Dillon’s local bar.
Lakeman is both Dillon’s husband and musical arranger, which puts him in a place where he is entirely sympathetic to her voice. He often builds from just the two of them; he will play a highly sensitive and interpretative piano, before others join in to add other textures and atmosphere. “Garden Valley” is a prime example of how, with the two only joined by bass and an understated guitar, the pure Irish beauty of the melody comes through powerfully. For a glimpse of how well this simplicity works, try googling her name with “False, False,” the version of which on this collection is previously unreleased (and see how many of her songs you can google before wanting the Redcastle DVD!).
The DVD is well assembled, with short interview and background segments dispersed between some of the songs, but with a “Play songs only” option that means the music can flow. Dillon reveals in the interview how having some of her past family emigrate to America to find work touches a chord with her, because at their parting they knew they would never return to see their home again. This is close to the heart of traditional songs, and she often includes such ballads in her sets. 
The only negative I can find for this disc is the second track, where you might find yourself screaming for the distracting camera to stop moving for a second, and where the instruments start to overpower Dillon’s voice for a bit at the end. But overall, this is a superb set of songs, sung by a hugely talented singer with sensitively produced arrangements. I recommend it highly for anyone who loves beauty and melody in their music.
Derek Walker


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