CD Reviews: Dervish

CD Reviews: Dervish

Travelling Show Whirling Discs, Whrl 011

Travelling Show

Whirling Discs, Whrl 011

Although their recent trip to Finland might not have gone as planned, Dervish’s tenth album doesn’t shy away from drawing attention to the importance of travel as a trope within traditional music. With its cover depicting the band as early minstrels, it evokes the harpers, dancing masters, and travelling teachers of the past, as well as of course the touring required by modern bands. It also brings to mind the importance of emigration in Irish tradition, and the participation of these musicians in the travelling spectacles of medicine shows and vaudeville.

The band have also journeyed beyond the common for repertoire; the opening song, ‘Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves’ (which is instantly familiar), was a hit for Cher, and really works in its new context. Somewhat typical of modern group recordings, the voice predominates, with seven songs out of the twelve tracks. Another contemporary song, ‘My Bride and I’, will appeal to many, but its sugary sentiment and over-the-top ‘contemporary pop’ production might be a step too far for some listeners. There’s the same problem with the great song, ‘The Cat she went a-hunting’, which starts out with the familiar, and highly effective, Dervish sound, but the layering on of tracks as the song progresses irritates. Cathy Jordan’s own creative voice comes through very strongly on the CD, with a reworking of the Child ballad ‘Lord Levett’, set to her own tune, and the newly-written ‘Gráinne’, another composition of Jordan’s, this time with lyrics by Sharon Vaughn. These are far more attractive songs, partly because of the more restrained arrangement and production, but also because they both work well and convince as traditional songs.

Tom Morrow emerges as another significant creative voice on the CD, adding yet more substantial contributions to the potential canon of the tradition. The group also show a restlessness with the ‘session’ type presentation which has served them well in the past, and the opening of the ‘Coolea Jigs’, with its ostinato accordion chords, brings the band’s music into a more contemporary territory. The juxtaposition of reel and hop jig (previously done by Slide to tremendous effect), and the reworking of the reel ‘The Yellow Tinker’, show the band at its mercurial best – this final set of reels also features the band travelling in the temporal domain, as Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill’s harpsichord, coupled with some powerfully percussive backing, recreates the classic sound of the Bothy Band. No douze points then, but there’s enough high points here to recommend sampling at least some of this show.

Published on 1 January 2008

Adrian Scahill is a lecturer in traditional music at Maynooth University.

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