This is the debut album for Cara Dillon. Why we have had to wait so long to hear from her beats me. For the uninitiated who have never heard of Cara, she is 27 years old and a tasteful singer with a rare and beautiful voice. She comes from Dungiven, Co. Derry, Ireland, where at the age of 14 won the All Ireland singing trophy. She first came to prominence singing with the Irish band Oige and later signed with the Warner Music UK for the super group Equation.
It was here she met her partner Sam Lakeman. Together they decided to sever their connection with Warner Music and go it alone. This was probably the best decision they have ever made, as it leaves them free to concentrate on traditional material and music they really like. The album was recorded at Sam’s parents’ home in Devon and at Rath Na Lochan in Co. Donegal.
The album is a real pleasure to listen to, although be warned that the backing is not the normal run-of-the-mill folk sound, but is based on electric piano and synthesiser. It works for me. This is a heavily studio produced album with guest musicians Sam Lakeman on piano, harmonium and organ; Justin Adams on electric guitar; Mary Dillonon backing vocals; Seth Lakeman on violin, viola, tenor guitar and mandolin; Ben Nicholls on bass, Roy Dodds on drums a percussion; Sean Lakeman on acoustic guitar; Luke Daniels button accordion; Dan Goddard acoustic guitar; and John Reynalds drums. Some of the vocals and arrangements tend to lean towards a pop music sound with a bit of double tracking.
Most of the songs on the album are traditional standards, but there are two songs written by Cara and Sam Lakeman. ‘Blue Mountain River’ and ‘I Wish I Was’ are both very nice and fit very well with the traditional songs. The album starts with traditional song ‘Black is the Colour,’ followed by ‘Donald of Glencoe.’ I have heard both theses songs many times before, but Sam and Cara’s arrangement breathes new life into them, being very reminiscent of what Steeleye Span might have done with these songs. The next song is ‘Craigie Hill’ Most of the tracks have Sam Lakeman’s piano as the main accompaniment. After ‘Green Grows the Laurel’ comes ‘Lark in The Clear Air’ and ‘The Lonesome Scenes of Winter’. I would have liked something a bit more lively at this point on the album, if only to give it a bit of light and shade, but a beggar can’t choose! After ‘The Maid of Culmore’ comes my favourite tracks, ‘She’s Like a Swallow,’ and the last song ‘I Am a Youth That’s Inclined To Ramble,’ one of the best Irish immigrant songs.
Cara appears to have come down the same road as Kate Rusby and a few others, starting of on the festival / concert circuit instead of serving a lengthy apprenticeship doing the usual folk clubs. I hope she has learnt her stagecraft and can ‘cut the mustard’ when she appears live. It would be interesting to hear her in a normal folk club with no P.A. or electronics.
Beware – this is an album that leaves you wanting! It has been said this is the best way to leave an audience.
(Rough Trade, 2001)