Trad & Folk
Artists and Albums
Hello! This page is part of an opinionated overview of Celtic and British folk music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... This is not meant to be taken as a "definitive" resource, but rather as a record of some of the music which has caught my interest. I am always looking for more good music to explore, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is the first page covering the letter "D"
Jackie Daly "Music From Sliabh Luachra" (Green Linnet, 1977)
Jackie Daly & Seamus Creagh "Jackie Daly & Seamus Creagh" (Gael Linn, 1977)
Jackie Daly & Kevin Burke "Eavesdropper" (Mulligan's Music, 1981)
Jackie Daly/Manus McGuire/Seamus McGuire "Buttons & Bows" (Green Linnet, 1984)
Jackie Daly "Domhnach Is Dalach/Many's A Wild Night" (Gael Linn, 1995)
Dando Shaft "Anthology: Three Original Albums" (RPM, 2002)
An extraordinary 2-CD reissue of three early-'70s folk-fusion albums by this little-known but quite accomplished English group out of Coventry. This collects all the material from the LPs An Evening With Dando Shaft (1970), Dando Shaft (1971), and Lantaloon, from 1972, along with a few added outtakes and rarities. The musical calibre and adventurousness on all three albums was quite high: at a time when many of their hippie contemporaries were groping in the dark (both literally and figuratively...) the members of Dando Shaft were quite solid in their musical abilities and conceptual/compositional structure. Their original material was marked by jazzy, dancing mandolin work, hearty trad-folk vocals and a touch of loping Balkan melodies, the group sounded quite accomplished and assured, and yet loose and limber enough to be kinda fun as well... and still as fresh sounding today as it was back then! Fans of contemporary acts such as The Incredible String Band, Pentangle and Planxty owe it to themselves to check this one out.
Dando Shaft "Dando Shaft/Lantaloon" (Beat Goes On, 2002)
Dando Shaft "An Evening With Dando Shaft" (MCA/Youngblood, 1970)
Dando Shaft "Dando Shaft" (RCA/Neon, 1971)
Dando Shaft "Lantaloon" (RCA, 1972)
Dando Shaft "Reaping The Harvest... Plus" (1970)
Dando Shaft "Kingdom" (1977)
Danu "Danu" (1997)
Danu "Think Before You Think" (Shanachie, 2000)
Gorgeous! This young Irish band has all the right touches and makes all the right moves. The instrumentals are powerful yet pliable, with none of the brittleness and severity that can so often make traditional jigs and reels seem so torturous. Better still, this set is wonderfully heavy on vocal numbers, with husky-toned vocalist Ciaran O' Gealbhain matching the rich, soulful depths of some of Ireland and England's best traditional singers. Although it's an early release, this album might actually be the best of all the Danu discs... and they're all pretty good!
Danu "All Things Considered" (Shanachie, 2002)
Solidly traditional material, tailormade for those who long for the glory days of Planxty or the Clancy Brothers. Indeed, Liam Clancy seems to have been an early patron of the group, and this album was recorded at his studio in Waterford. Singer Ciaran O' Gealbhain certainly has the goods -- despite his youth, he has that lovely, old-man throatiness that makes Andy Irvine and the Clancys so lovely to listen to. The band also has a light, melodic touch. Great record with a nice mix of songs and tuneful instrumentals... If these young fellows represent the future of Irish trad, then I'm quite happy for the future!
Danu "The Road Less Traveled" (Shanachie, 2003)
Although there are several nice songs on here, including some notable contemporary compositions, the overwhelming tilt of this album is towards instrumental material... those darn jigs and reels! There's no denying that the band is masterful in its delivery, but the attack is too driving and aggressive for me, personally. This would be amazing to see live, but -- old geezer that I am -- I'd prefer something more lulling to listen to at home.
Danu "Up In The Air" (Shanachie, 2004)
Danu "One Night Stand" (DVD) (Shanachie, 2005)
Danu "When All Is Said And Done" (Shanachie, 2006)
Another set of superior Irish trad from this talented new band. This band just keeps moving from triumph to triumph... Guitarist Donal Clancy (son of Liam) provides elegant fretwork which helps soften their instrumental work, while female singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh returns for her second full record with the group; she is growing into a fine, confident songer with the sort of resonance and gravitas as Dolores Keane and Mary Black, but little of the stuffiness those older grand dames have developed. The song selections are tilting towards more modern material -- including a contemporary folk song by Paul Brady -- but the feel is still traditional, and entirely satisfying. Danu are also still one of the only trad bands whose instrumental work I find consistently pleasing. There is a rounded, soft quality to their performances that takes some of the edge off their jigs and reels... Great stuff; highly recommended!
Decameron "Third Light/Tomorrow's Pantomime" (Transatlantic, 1975/1976)
This disc lingered in the cheapo section of the Celtic Folk bin at my local Record Hut for many a month, so finally I gave in and decided to check it out... (particularly as the other Transatlantic/Castle twofer discs I'd picked up have been rather rewarding....) Anyway, although there are "folk" elements at play, this is very much a rock-pop album, albeit in a very mellow, largely acoustic kinda way. Sort of Cat Stevens-y, or Moody Blues-ish, if you get my general drift. Not bad, but don't go in expecting either mad jigs and reels nor lofty, painful prog. Just mellow stuff, with somewhat overly-serious songwriting and a nice beat.
De Danann "De Danann" (Polydor, 1975) (LP)
De Danann "Selected Jigs Reels And Songs" (Shanachie, 1977) (LP)
De Danann "The Mist Covered Mountain" (Shanachie, 1981)
De Danann "The Star-Spangled Molly" (Shanachie, 1981)
Galway's De Danann epitomized the sort of Celtic bands whose albums are dominated by instrumental tunes, with a few stray songs slipping in between the cracks... This album, which celebrates the 1920s heyday of the Irish-American musical boom, features vocals by husky-toned newcomer Maura O'Connell (her debut, I believe...) who belts out several tunes, accompanied by fiddler Frankie Gavin, accordionist Jackie Daly, and their clattersome cohorts. This album also prominently features the banjo, a distinctively American touch, in keeping with the feel of the original recordings. Too many jigs and reels for me, but fans of the style won't be disappointed by the musicianship.
De Danann "A Jacket Of Batteries" (Harmac, 1983/Green Linnet, 1991)
A nice disc, originally recorded in 1983. Although a couple of the non-vocal numbers drift into a softer, slightly goopy range, for the most part this is a pretty solid set, with inventive instrumentals and excellent vocals by Elanor Shanley, who recalls the otherworldly splendor of Maddy Prior and likeminded Brit-Celt singers. The one false note on here is the political tune, "Mandela," which is fine in a heartfelt, folkie kinda way, but does pull you out of the otherwise groovy trad vibe.
De Danann "The Irish RM" (1984)
De Danann "Anthem" (1985)
De Danann "Ballroom" (Green Linnet, 1987)
De Danann "Song For Ireland" (Tara, 1988)
The title track is a rather drab rendition of Dick Gaughan's immortal nostagic dirge, with stuffy and dramatically flat vocals courtesy of Mary Black. I'm afraid, though, that this was the version that was a hit in Ireland and the UK, and is the one people think of when you mention the song. Pity -- it's a bit like a dreary Judy Collins outtake, and screams out for the quiet, soulful intensity of Gaughan's original recording. Black nearly makes it up, though, on her fine reading of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times," which appears on the flip side of the album, along with an okay version of "I Live Not Where I Love." Maura O'Connell vocalizes on another tune, but other than that, this album is mostly made up of lightly delivered, somewhat perfunctory instrumentals... It's okay, but it doesn't really spark my imagination.
De Danann "1/2 Set In Harlem" (Green Linnet, 1991)
Another nice set, this time with something of an overarching theme: what was the other music that Irish immigrants might have heard in the New World? Jewish klezmer and African-American gospel are woven into De Dannan's typically rich musical fabric... Sometimes the fusion sounds forced, but mostly this is another nice album, and you have to admire the sentiments, and the fact that they didn't go totally overboard on some wild "world beat" mishmosh... You can halfway imagine this sort of crosscultural jamming actually having taken place somewhere at some groovy New York block party back at the turn of the 20th Century... and if it did, you can bet a good time was had by all!
De Dannan "Hibernian Rhapsody" (Shanachie, 1996)
Frankie Gavin is the leading force on this album... Many of the bouncy pipe-and-fiddle duets are quite catchy, although -- sadly -- it must be said that the new singer, Tommy Flemming, was kind of a dud. He has one of those tremulous, fey, sensitive-folkie voices that just puts me on edge. As a result the songs -- normally my favorite part of a trad album -- are kind of grueling here. The good news is, it helps me appreciate the instrumentals that much more... Standard-issue musical virtuosity, but still not one of their better albums.
De Danann "How The West Was Won" (1999)
De Danann "Welcome To The Hotel Connemara" (2000)
De Danann "WonderWaltz" (Celtic Airs, 2010)
De Danann "The Best Of De Danann" (Shanachie, 1981)
De Danann "The De Danann Collection" (BCI, 2005)
Sandy Denny - see artist profile
Brian Dewhurst "Bits And Pieces Of Brian Dewhurst" (Folk Heritage, 1974) (LP)
Brian Dewhurst & Tom Tiddler's Ground "The Hunter And The Hunted" (Folk Heritage, 1975) (LP)
Brian Dewhurst "Follow That With Your Sea Lions" (Fellside, 1977) (LP)
Cara Dillon "Cara Dillon" (Rough Trade, 2002)
Youth, and an airy, elfin voice seem to be the main attractions with this poppily-inclined Irish waif, who was previously in the bands Oige and Equation. She may have cut a wide swath through the folk scene when this album came out, but I gotta say it doesn't do much for me... It's kind of cloying, and the production is far too ornate and "Triple-A" for me, even if the songs come from the deep trad wellsprings... Not quite my cup of tea.
Cara Dillon "Sweet Liberty" (Rough Trade, 2003)
Cara Dillon "After The Morning" (Compass, 2006)
Cara Dillon "The Redcastle Sessions" (DVD) (2008)
Cara Dillon "Hill Of Thieves" (Charcoal, 2009)
John Doyle "Evening Comes Early" (Shanachie, 2001)
Solo album by the guitarist from the band Solas...
John Doyle "Wayward Son" (Compass, 2005)
WOW. I mean, DOUBLE WOW. Now, I was never a huge fan of the Irish-American supergroup, Solas, but I was totally floored by this jaunty, jovial, trad-oriented acoustic album by their guitarist John Doyle... Accompanied by the ubiquitous bassist Danny Thompson, Doyle has asserted himself as a worthy heir to the trad-folk line of Nic Jones, Martin Simpson, and others who infused hypertraditionalist repertoires with soulfulness, good humor and rich melodic depth. He even covers a Nic Jones tune, and gets the diving, plunking guitar style down to a "T." His impassioned version of the Australian robber ballad, "Jack Dolan" (aka"The Wild Colonial Boy") may be considered a definitive version for years to come. Doyle's fetwork is both lightning fast and soulfully fluid; with guest artists that include Liz Carroll, John McCusker, Kate Rusby and Linda Thompson, this album is brimming to overfull with talent and class. I was loathe to let this one leave my stereo, but eventually I had to... the CD was starting to wear down! This is really good... highly recommended!
John Doyle & Liz Carroll "In Play" (Compass, 2005)
A fantabulous two-person Celtic trad jam session featuring Chicago-based fiddler Liz Carroll (of Cherish The Ladies) and guitarist John Doyle (late of the band Solas). Carroll generally takes the lead, but Doyle's subtle, constantly shifting accompaniment is a tour-de-force in and of itself, contrasting the old-country sawing with a deft, pop-and-jazz inflected acoustic commentary. These are two top-flight Irish-American trad virtuosi, each performing at their absolute peak. I'm not generally that into all-instrumental trad albums, but this one's a doozy. Definitely worth checking out!
John Doyle & Liz Carroll "Double Play" (Compass, 2009)
(Produced by Liz Carroll & John Doyle)
Another stunning set of duets from these Irish-American folk-trad superstars. The uptempo opening medley, "The Chandelier/Anne Lacey's," will blow your mind: the nimble, restlessly inventive guitar picking and fiddling are astonishing in their speed and innovation, as well as the fervent, musicianly joy which radiates out for listeners to hear. Carroll and Doyle aren't mere technicians, they are collaborators and celebrants, riding a wave of excitement and newness that few artists get the chance to achieve. This record is easily one of the best Celtic-trad releases of the decade, and sets the bar for any artists that follow in its wake. Most of the tracks are instrumentals, although Doyle sings several songs, which is also a delight. Sorry if I seem to be gushing, but -- wow! -- this record really pays off when you give it close attention. Give it a spin.
John Doyle "Shadow And Light" (Compass, 2011)
(Produced by John Doyle)
Although he's been on the trad scene for many years, John Doyle keeps evolving and taking on new voices... Here, he has the stern, earnest passion of Andy Irvine on historically-oriented songs such as "Liberty's Sweet Shore," "Clear The Way" and "Bound For Botany Bay," stories about the Irish emigration to America and Australia; elsewhere he shows some of the odd, slightly askew neo-folk poetics of Barry Dransfield, and as this album came to a close, I heard on songs like "Bitter Brew" a strong similarity to the late Bert Jansch, a prim combination of economical guitar work and a distinctly clipped vocal style. This album bears the stamp of Doyle's Irish-American heritage, recorded in Nashville with backing by several top-tier bluegrassers (Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Todd Phillips on Bass, with cameos by Alison Brown and Tim O'Brien) and perhaps more importantly an entire album's worth of original compositions, with Doyle showing his mastery of traditional song. A little more dour and a little less jaunty than his other recent records, but certainly an album with resonance and heft... Recommended!
Sean Doyle "The Light And The Half-Light" (Compass, 2004)
(Produced by John Doyle)
Fiddler Liz Carroll and Appalachian old-timey revivalist Dirk Powell join guitarist-producer John Doyle and his father Sean Doyle in this understated set of Irish trad songs. The elder Mr. Doyle has a clear, rich vocal style reminiscent of the old Clancy Brothers sound. The approach is pretty down-to-earth, with soft guitar and low-key vocals the primary touchpoints on all the songs. There's a hint of the sometimes-sugary crossover elements that arise in Doyle the younger's work with Solas, but it's mainly held in check, and this is a pretty straightforward trad album. Some of these songs are well of the beaten track, as well, so for those of a more folkloric bent, this is a real treat.
Nick Drake - see artist profile
Robin & Barry Dransfield "Up To Now" (Free Reed, 1997)
Despite the lamentably garish cover art, this 2-CD set is a real find for the devoted English folk fan, covering the lengthy careers -- as a pair and as solo acts -- of this talented, innovative sibling duo. Yorkshire-born, the Dransfields came up through the local folk club scene of the mid-1960s, but didn't record under their own names until 1970, which is where this sweeping anthology begins. The Dransfield brothers easily fall under that cherished Brit-folk category, "perhaps not for everyone..." But once you get in on their wavelength, their music continuously reveals new depth and textures, drawing you hypnotically into their web. Paralleling the experimentalism of the Incredible String Band, the Dransfields brought an oddly askew, modern, rock-informed touch to their work, very much colored by the psychedelic-poetic conventions of the era. The material varies over time, some of it strictly traditional, though mostly it's original music penned by one or another of the brothers. What's compelling throughout is the instrumental work -- inventive, labyrinthine fiddle and guitar playing that exudes an in-the-moment intensity in practically every note. Likewise, their keening, Northern English vocals show the same absorption in their art: none of this sounds by-the-numbers or blandly professional, and for fans who look for artistic passion in their music, this is a goldmine. I kept expecting the eventual abrupt turn towards horrid, synth-laden pop crossovers, but it never rears its ugly head on this well-selected, intelligently programmed anthology. Although practically all the original albums are hopelessly out of print, this double disc set is generously packed with compelling tunes. Highly recommended.
Barry Dransfield "Barry Dransfield" (Polydor, 1972)
(Produced by Bill Leader)
The first solo album by English singer-fiddler Barry Dransfield, a cult favorite and beloved figure in the British trad-folk revival, best known for his work with his brother Robin, and for his participation in the "Morris On" album and other Albion Band-related records. A great mix of traditional themes and kooky, poetical psychedelic flights of fancy. It's all quite nice!
Dransfield "The Fiddler's Dream" (Transatlantic, 1976)
Having gone separate ways at the start of the 1970s, Robin and Barry reunited in '76 for this somewhat-thumpy folk-rock outing, a "loose" concept album that is divided into four parts, and a lost gem from the folk-prog scene. Their trademark soulful, keening vocals echo throughout, and though the album initially has a plodding feel, it gains strength and resonance as it goes along. At first I was a little put off by the slow, deliberate pace, but several songs at the end won me over, and on repeated listenings, I really got into it. A bit elves-in-the-forest, to be sure, but also a nice slice of lost '70s folk culture. Worth checking out.
Drinker's Drouth "A Tribute" (Greentrax, 2001)
A tribute, that is, to the late Davy Steele, who was part of Drinker's Drouth during its last five years as a viable band... This disc compiles material from two of their albums, When The Kye Comes Home, from 1982, and 1984's Bound To Go, all of which is excellent material... The band had sort of a folkie, Rovers-y feel to it, but the musicianship and the warm harmony vocals, in particular, are a delight. Recommended! (Available through the Greentrax label.)
The Druids "Burnt Offering" (Argo, 1970) (LP)
An absolutely stunning acoustic-based traditional British/Celtic folk, with solid musicianship and beautiful group and harmony vocals. The band features vocalist Keith Kendrick anchoring a group chorus that achieves some truly distinctive, arresting harmonies, keening sounds in unusual combinations heard (as far as I know) only in the English countryside. Counterbalancing Kendick is the quintet's female lead, Judi Longden, who has one of those piercing, plaintive voices like Maddy Prior's -- indeed, this album reminds me quite a bit of Steeleye Span's best, most traditionally-oriented work of the early 1970s, except that the Druids album is much, much better, at least from a traditionalist's standpoint. There are no forays into rock or jazz, no clumsy attempts at crossover-y relevance, just a rock-solid set of delightful traditional songs, lively and lusty and delivered with great intelligence and charm, and Longden's stunning voice is better and more consistently framed than Prior's. The repertoire is of the same caliber as the performers, a beguiling parade of bawdy singalongs and unusual ballads... Highlights include the eerie "The Prickly Bush," sung from the standpoint of a man on the gallows, imploring the members of his family to save him, and the sailing song, "Our Captain Called All Hands." Of the many bawdy songs, some, like "The Cuckoo's Nest," are in code while others, such as "The Butcher And The Parson," are shockingly blunt. The most modern song is the wicked and witty "Salvation Army Band," which tells the tale of a lad led astray by a religious revival. All in all, this is one doozy of a disc and still sadly, sorely in need of reissue. Highly recommended!
The Dubliners "Revolution" (Tribune, 1970)
(Produced by Phil Coulter)
Longhaired and shaggy, these Irish folkies delved into leftie politics wholeheartedly, touching on civil rights (with Ewan MacColl's "Alabama '58"), coal mining, militarism, mental disabilities (Martin Coulter's painfully earnest "Scorn Not His Simplicity") and the usual dose of anti-English nationalism and whatnot. Definitely a product of its times, but not bad, really.
The Duggans "Trad" (Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1993)
Galway's Duggan family passes through a fine set of instrumental numbers -- reels, jigs and the like. Again, I'm not that big a fan of all-instrumental albums, but these folks play the music with a simple, unpretentious air, and it certainly sounds nice.
The Duggans "Rubicon" (MDM, 2005)
More Celtic/Brit Folk Albums -- Letter "E"
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