Folk queen Dillon is nothing if not consistent. Album after album features her pure voice, clear as a mountain stream, while husband Sam Lakeman offers an unswervingly sensitive touch on the piano.
Label: Charcoal Records
Time: 10 Tracks, 44 mins
With such a superb foundation as this, the music needs very little adornment. Sometimes, Lakeman turns to acoustic guitar, sometimes there will be a touch of bass or fiddle.
And every release so far has been a four-star offering, or better.
So it is no surprise that Wanderer follows this well-worn path: all but three of this collection are traditional songs and they are delivered with clarity, beauty and oceans of space.
Occasional visitor John Smith adds his vocals and guitar on a couple of tracks, as does Kris Drever to the fine “Sailer Boy;” Robert Plant and Tinariwen collaborator Justin Adams brings a discreet electric guitar to a couple more; Niall Murphy’s fiddle underscores the Irish origin of songs like “The Banks of the Bann,” and Ben Nicholls adds double bass to “The Banks of the Foyle.”
All these banks – and the title – hint at the album’s theme of refugees and travellers, folks longing for home. Opener “The Tern and the Swallow” beautifully introduces the concept and displays all the qualities that make Dillon’s work so appealing, with Lakeman’s rippling piano and accents from the fiddle.
As you might expect from a selection of traditional songs, leaving young maids and mourning dead lovers play a part too. One of the couple’s own compositions, “The Leaving Song” adds some variety to the traditional songs and has an emotional urgency of its own.
But there is a price for Dillon’s consistency. I warned on a previous review that she ran the risk of being predictable and offering little new for fans to take away, recommending a one-off disc of multi-tracking her ethereal voice and bathing the listener in a lush soundscape, just to freshen things up.
Now, with this album, the prediction is starting to come true – ironically, as others are praising its stripped back qualities. When your quality is already so consistently high, it is the tracks themselves that induce a listener to buy the album, and while the first half of this set is very strong, a few of the songs – such as “The Faughan Side” and “Both Sides the Tweed” – begin to sound quite similar to the rest towards the end.
There are still other highlights: “Blackwaterside” always sounds beautiful, even if everyone has recorded it, and “The Banks of the Bann” takes the same powerful tune as “Lord of all Hopefulness.”
But even though Dillon is one of those thoroughly appealing musicians whose work should be in millions of homes, this one could be a little superfluous for those who already have several of her discs.
Given the time of year, her excellent 2016 Christmas album Upon a Winter’s Night is one I’d recommend more at the moment, just.