Cara Dillon – Wanderer
Charcoal Records – 13 October 2017
‘Even when she breathes it’s beautiful.’ I remember my brother whispering that to me when we first saw Cara Dillon at the Hammersmith and Fulham Irish Centre (as it was known back then) when we first saw her in February 2002. If I recall correctly, it was just Cara backed by her husband Sam Lakeman and his brother Seth (whatever happened to him?).
My brother is lucky he got away with the utterance, as you could hear audience members tutting others when they put their glasses down or shuffled in their chairs. Such was the enchanting experience of listening to her sing up close and sympathetically accompanied. You wanted to catch every breath, each intonation, each sigh of sorrow…
So it’s wonderful that Cara has chosen to give us a stripped-back album produced, as ever by Sam. Her voice isn’t bathed in reverb, multi-tracked or battling multifarious instruments. This is Cara, up close and personal. And all the better for it.
It was watching a ‘mesmerising’ solo Laura Marling concert in Bristol that encouraged her to strip back. ‘In the past, we’ve used lots of musicians on our albums,’ she told BelfastLive, ‘and there’s been quite a lot of pre-production on them as well, whereas this one is all about the song and letting the song breathe.’
That is not to say that Wanderer doesn’t have its share of startling supporting artists. Alongside Sam’s elegant piano arrangements which are the core of the set, are Justin Adams on acoustic guitar. John Smith provides some intricate electric guitar and vocals to the traditional The Banks of the Foyle, Kris Drever adds a touch of highland backing vocals to Sailor Boy (an American variation of the more familiar English traditional song, A Sailor’s Life), alongside Niall Murphy’s evocative fiddle. While long-term Cara Dillon band member Ben Nicholls contributes his trademark double bass to another – equally well known – traditional song Blackwater Side.
If you are picking up a theme here from those tracks and the album’s title, full marks: yes this is a 10-song cycle about transition and departure. It’s a fitting exploration for the Dungiven girl now ensconced in England. Which again gives the album a satisfying whole and the subject matter suits her beautiful singing, which always has a whisper of melancholy.
For me, it’s her most satisfying album since her astonishing self-titled debut in 2001. Much as I enjoy her other recorded output, sometimes the lush production washed her peerless vocals into Radio 2 playlist-friendly territory. Something deeper is going on with Wanderer and you get the feeling this is an album that had to be recorded, rather than one that they planned.
Which may account for the odd timing and speedy release. On 13 September, Cara announced to her social media followers that a new album was on the way. A month later, as if by magic, it appeared… with the small matter of a Christmas tour showcasing songs from her festive 2016 release Upon a Winter’s Night in November and December following soon after.
So we’ll have to wait until next year for a tour to promote Wanderer, but the strength of the material here suggests it will be well worth the wait…
Out Now on Charcoal Records. Order it via Amazon
Live dates here: http://www.caradillon.co.uk/gigs