Mellow beat, a fluid guitar and then the voice cuts in. As the opening bars of When a Man’s in Love float by, you think to yourself, “hmm, we’re in a treat here.” And in many ways you are.
It is the first track on Mary Dillon’s debut album North. The name will be familiar. Younger sister Cara Dillon is a global star. The older sibling was once singer in the Irish band Déanta, but has been absent from recording for the past fifteen years, bar the odd guest appearance, as real life got in the way.
Now she’s back with a release consisting of songs linked to the North of Ireland. By her mid-teens Mary Dillon was twice winner of the All-Ireland Singing Trophy, and it shows. Her voice isn’t as delicate as little sister’s but it has a character all of its own that will make most female vocalists wonder if they should consider doing something else.
While most of the material here is traditional, Dillon offers her own composition, The Boatman, a sad, haunting tale of frustrated love, that’s one of the highlights. The Banks of Claudy, powered gently and winningly along by Eamon McElholm’s rhythm guitar follows. Four tracks in and it’s all looking nice and bonny.
It’s here where we hit a snag. The stripped back production is welcome, but at close to seven minutes, Edward on Lough Erne Shore needs a more complex arrangement to hold the interest. Three other songs follow. All of them work on their own, but are too similar in tempo to be placed together.
However, there can be no complaints about Ard Ti Chuain, the final track. It’s simply sublime.
Despite this album’s flaws as a collection there is still much to admire within it. The arrangements are subtle and the musicianship of a high standard. Lovers of traditional Irish music should lap it up. At least it is to be hoped so. Mary Dillon is too much of a talent to disappear again.