Cara Dillon, A Thousand HeartsWith a voice like Dillon's you want to keep using the word 'gorgeous'. This is another collection in the vein of her award-winning Hill of Thieves.

Label: Charcoal Records
Time: 11 Tracks / 45 minutes

Cara Dillon's previous album Hill of Thieves won 'Album of the Year' in Radio 2's Folk Awards four years ago, setting a standard that is difficult to beat. New release A Thousand Hearts follows its style.

Again, her husband/producer Sam Lakeman places delicate instrumentation around her beautifully crystalline, but warm, Irish vocals on a disc with plenty of traditional material collected loosely around the theme of the heart.

The disc is well laid-out. "Jacket So Blue" beds in the collection's emphasis on melody right from the start, while "Bright Morning Star" adds a definite thread of Americana, possibly for the first time in her music, and the banjo decoration flows into "My Donald," with its fiddle riff playing the track out. In case some of the traditional songs get too alike, she sets two contemporary pieces in the middle of the disc. Although it deals with heartbreak, drummed in by the line "You have left me nowhere to go," Shawn Colvin's "Shotgun Down the Avalanche" is deceptively beautiful and remarkably upbeat, giving the disc a fresh pop twist. Then comes "River Run," a piece she has regularly used in soundchecks, but not recorded until now. Here Dillon lets her emotion out with a vulnerable vocal. It is the sort of performance that makes you wish there were a 50 second gap afterwards to savour the mood before the traditional material resumes.

Such variety echoes the Hill of Thieves format. Sometimes we get invited into the Lakeman household for a simple piano ballad ("Táimse im' Chodladh" and "River Run"); sometimes a gentle acoustic guitar run out ("The Shores of Lough Bran," with its lovely hook line); sometimes guitar and piano together ("As I Roved Out"); the aforementioned pop of "Avalanche," and elsewhere the more sprightly Celtic energy of "Moorland Mary" and "Éirigh Suas a Stóirín."

It worries me that Dillon is too consistent for her own good and that we might think her predictable. Her body of work so far is very impressive, but how long can it go on without being taken for granted? As I have previously urged, I would love to hear her take a route for the next album that uses the softness of her vocals, but from a fresh perspective.

"Bright Morning Star" surely points the way. Her harmonies with John Smith, Aoife O'Donovan and the Eagles' Timothy B. Schmidt make it one of the best two tracks and such collaborations would be a great basis for a whole album. Maybe it would be trickier to tour, but her duet with Smith proved highly effective on her Redcastle Sessions DVD and a dozen such pieces would bring an exciting new approach to her recordings.

Still, even with no surprises, there is more than enough beauty in this release to keep her popular. She is simply doing what she does best.


Derek Walker

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