Irish Eurovision entrants deliver an authentic collection of national folk favourites with transatlantic guests.
Time: 13 tracks / 63 minutes
I find it difficult to cover this release without comparing it to The Chieftains. Dervish is also a respected Irish band (Eurovision entrants and the first Irish band ever to play Rock in Rio) tackling traditional songs and inviting different guests from across the world to appear on each track.
The Chieftains would invite mainstream musicians to create a very contemporary sound (one release had the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Sting and Ry Cooder among its guests), but their Nashville Sessions was a more bluegrassy affair. Similarly, Dervish have invited folkier artists to join them (half from each side of the Atlantic), mainly on vocals, giving it a consistently rootsy feel. Both albums feature Vince Gill.
Bluegrass band The Steeldrivers offer a far more traditional account of “Whiskey in the Jar” than Thin Lizzy’s definitive version, and once you get used to its different phrasing, it is very enjoyable, especially as it ends with the reel “Over the Hills to Maggie.” It’s the sort of fiddling that, if played loudly, would be a real hand-clapper and foot stomper. A few more of these reels would be very welcome.
At two opposite ends of the vocals spectrum, and both fine in their respective styles, are Steve Earle’s gruff approach (with shades of Shane McGowan) on “The Galway Shawl” and Andrea Corr’s wispily ethereal take on the classic “She Wandered through the Fair,” aided by generous doses of reverb. It’s a definite highlight.
There are a few surprises, and two of them come on one track: “A Rocky Road to Dublin” features actor Brendan Gleeson on vocals – and it turns out that he plays fiddle and mandolin too. Vince Gill singing falsetto for “On Raglan Road” is another (although whether the song is better for it is another matter).
Kate Rusby is an inspired choice, as she is used to telling stories in song and her performance of W. B. Yeats’ “Down by the Salley Gardens” is typically captivating.
Despite the guests (Rhiannon Giddens and Abigail Washburn also appear), Dervish’s own Cathy Jordan sings two songs, and her own performances are superb, including “Dónal Óg” (“Young Donald”), which has some extended instrumentals to maintain the sad atmosphere.
This is a solid release with some very fine performances and it shows the Irish songbook great respect, echoing the centuries of these songs being sung in pubs; but, considering how often they have been recorded in similar ways, I can’t help thinking that the Chieftains’ more contemporary approach might add a tad more character to some songs.