Dervish- The Great Irish Songbook review

Dervish The Great Irish Songbook Rounder Records

Northwest Ireland’s favourite band, Dervish returns with a well-executed collection of songs suitably entitled The Great Irish Songbook.

Much as other performers of the Celtic variety have done—The Chieftains, Altan, Sharon Shannon among them—Dervish looks to North Americana (I typed that accidentally, and decided it somehow seemed appropriate!) to collaborate on a set of lively songs, only a few of which could be classified, in broadest definition, as ‘contemporary.’

The bridging of styles and influence is most remarkable when Dervish is working with those toward whom some may raise a skeptical eyebrow. There is wisdom in the madness, and the Celtic origins of bluegrass are readily apparent as Dervish whips through “There’s Whiskey in the Jar” with bluegrassers The SteedDrivers.  It’s a rippin’ take; full measure to all.

Similarly, Rhiannon Giddens’ vocal approach ideally complements Dervish on “The May Morning Dew.” “The Parting Glass,” last recorded by Rosanne Cash a couple years back, is interpreted in soaring fashion by Abigail Washburn; no banjo on either of these—unfortunately.

Vince Gill (“On Raglan Road”) and Jamey Johnson (“The Fields of Athenry”) simply remind us how seldom we encounter new music from these stout vocalists. Beautiful stuff. Steve Earle, who has previously expressed some admiration for Irish ladies, always sounds great when he mixes things up a bit: his rendition of “The Galway Shawl” is spot-on.

Cathy Jordan appears vocally on most songs, and takes two leads including the lovely “Dónal Óg.” Fittingly, Dervish doesn’t abandon the home country. Actor Brenden Gleeson (a spirited “The Rocky Road to Dublin,”) Imelda May (a magical “Molly Malone,”) and Andrea Corr (the beautifully rendered “She Moved Through the Fair”) front the group, and each brings their individual, positive spin to collaboration. Not to be left out, Kate Rusby (“Down By the Sally Gardens”) and David Gray (“The West Coast of Clare”) also appear.

A cursory reading of the song titles and performers provides a fine overview of the project. The majority of the songs and talents are familiar, and only momentarily does anyone step out of their comfort zone. All is exceptionally executed, each song a perfect tapestry of musical perfection.

And that might be the only complaint about The Great Irish Songbook: it is very comfortable, no edges and little palatable spontaneity. The SteelDrivers’ track has fire, but many of the songs lack a dram of fervor.

That caution aside, everything within The Great Irish Songbook sounds absolutely pristine, and it is a very enjoyable album.

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