Just over a year ago Edinburgh based Dallahan were catapulted into the spotlight with their debut album, When The Day Is On The Turn. Earning rave reviews up and down the country, their modern interpretations of Scottish, Irish and Hungarian traditions, skilfully blended with jazz and swing influences caused something of a stir, earning them high praise from the music press and audiences alike. An impressive list of live appearances in America and Europe ensued, and the band were nominated for ‘Album Of The Year’ and ‘Folk Band Of The Year’ at the Scots Trad Music Awards in December last year. This month, the band will release the much-anticipated follow up to that spectacular debut with Matter of Time.
At the core of the band are singer/guitarist Jack Badcock and multi-instrumentalist Ciarán Ryan. Jack’s roots are Irish, but he’s lived in Edinburgh from a young age, and it was while playing at the famous Sandy Bell’s in Edinburgh that he met Ciarán, from Brechin. That was in 2011. While gigging and busking around the city, the pair met Hungarian fiddler Jani Lang and by 2013 Dallahan had released their first E.P. There have been some changes in personnel along the way, and the new album sees the introduction of Borders piano accordion player Andrew Waite (Tyde/Claire Hastings Band), who keeps a strong flavour of trad and contemporary Scots music in the mix.
Not surprisingly, the albums opens with an immediate and lively taste of that intoxicating mix. What still surprises, though, is just how extensive and polished that mix is. Scottish song meets Irish dance as Logan Braes, adapted to Jack’s own melody, is peppered with bursts of a Meare Breathneach reel. Logan Braes is a typically wistful Borders song, but these guys are wasting no time in getting down to it and in the hands of Dallahan it’s a punchy, string filled delight. The hint of harmonies comes from Derry singer Ciara McCafferty (Connla); who immediately takes the lead vocal, and tempers the pace, in Blow The Candle Out. Another traditional song with a new melody, and a slightly altered outlook, from Jack. It’s perfectly suited to Ciara’s soft voice alongside Jack’s richer tones in the duet. That soothing duet is further softened by a perfectly placed, muted trumpet, courtesy of Toby Shipley.
In the space of just a few minutes, Dallahan have taken us from fiery reels to the most gentle of love songs, and such is the breadth of their vision, there’s still a lot more on offer. The final dimension in Dallahan’s unique sound is Hungarian fiddler Jani Lang, and the Balkan influences he brings to the music. Those exotic roots couldn’t be more clearly represented than in the pair of regional tunes Zöld Erdoben. The opening Gan Ainm, from the Csángó tradition, is a fine, frantic dance centred on a trio of accordion, fiddle and banjo. Zöld Erdoben (In The Green Forest) is a stronger-flavoured traditional song delivered in Jani Lang’s rich, laughter-filled baritone. It’s also here that Jenny Hill’s contribution on double bass exerts its most valuable influence.
A deeper exploration of European/Balkan traditions comes in Pierre’s, which takes us back to Romania, for a stroll through the streets of Bucharest…perhaps a little the worse for wear. The opening Romanian dance leads straight into an unmistakeably Scottish reel (with an Italian name) from Ciarán. Fiddle and accordion are driven along by a tireless guitar, towards a hint of swing that heralds an even more intricate visit to the realms of French Cinema. The final fling cheekily snapped on to the end is an absolute joy.
It’s clear that in their second album, Dallahan have subjected their approach to further development, expanding their outlook well beyond the original promise of When The Day Is On The Turn. That development extends to the vocal tracks too, of course. The Reaper, by Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Mike Kearney, sees its gentle opening carefully driven along by fiddle and guitar before a stirring lift from Ciara’s harmonies and another guest – Paddy Callaghan on button accordion. The inclusion of more brass from Toby Shipley, and the sheer magic of Jarleth Henderon’s low whistle, in the closing sequences lift the song even higher.
The wealth of tune sets on the album is extensive, though, and their scope bewildering. Harbour Of Polperro is a set of tunes with a steady start that wouldn’t be out of place on a Lunasa album. As the guitar picks up the pace for The Witch Island, Jarlath Henderson’s whistle provides harmonies and the dream moves on to Amanda’s Jig, a lively outing from banjo and accordion. Michael McCague’s closes the set with a positive swing. The outstanding tune set on the album, though (on an album full of outstanding tune sets) has to be Dutch Courage. The set sees Dallahan truly revelling in their art. A lively accordion/banjo combo opens with a Flemish reel of unknown origin, and while Jani’s fiddle soars effortlessly above, there’s an extra injection of swing for the spicier tones and varied pace of Maxie’s Reel, leading to Jarleth’s Ulliean pipes for the intoxicating conclusion.
Ferny Hill is Irish through and through; with pipes, fiddle, accordion and banjo in flawless unison, and ‘Spolkas canters through a trio of dances that takes us from Pembrokeshire to Hungary in just over three minutes.
All good things must come to and, though, and in this case that’s achieved with a slick reworking of Darrell Scott’s Ain’t no Easy Way. Upbeat, with splashes of fiddle, brass and mandolin; it’s a far lighter approach than the original, and the fiddle solo at the half-way point is a brief, sparkling, gem. The whole album sparkles, from start to finish. And for those of us who thrive on detail, the sleeve notes are invaluable, while Sarah Diver Lang’s artwork is beautifully conceived and executed.
A Scottish band with Irish roots, and strong Hungarian influences; a collection of exceptional young talent – every one of them award winners and nominees; a track record that encourages high expectations. Those expectations, not surprisingly, have been met. The assured performances on this album rival those of any professional trad musician, songwriter or tunesmith with far more experience to draw on. Within those widely varying influences, Dallahan have created a sound that unifies, rather than exemplifies the regional differences, offering something new, distinct and infinitely appealing. Not only are Dallahan made up of a remarkable pool of talent, together they make up an even more remarkable creative unit. Matter of Time is the latest, captivating result of that creativity.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Matter of Time is released 11 April
Available via www.dallahanmusic.com and on their tours.
Upcoming Tour Dates
APR 19 – London, The Green Note
APR 23 – Aberdeenshire, Hatton Castle
MAY 26 – Dumfries and Galloway, Colvend Hall
MAY 27 – Falkirk, Falkirk Town Hall
JUN 23 – Edinburgh, Royal Highland Show
JUN 24 – Edinburgh, Royal Highland Show
JUL 01 – Channel Islands Sark Folk Festival
JUL 08 – Priddy, Priddy Folk Festival
JUL 10 – Stonehaven, Stonehaven Folk Festival
JUL 15 – Orkney, Hoy Hoolie
JUL 16 – Orkney, Hoy Hoolie
JUL 29 – Frankfort, NY Great American Irish Festival
AUG 19 – Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee Irish Fest