Dallahan – Speak Of The Devil: Album Review

Dallahan – four get frenzied on folk island.

Release Date: 16th June 2023

Label: Dallahan Music

Format: CD / vinyl

Dalliances with the Devil are a common theme in music. Since Robert Johnson’s mythical meeting at the crossroads, Ozzy has spoken with the Devil, Motley Crue have shouted at him (or her or even them – we don’t want to get into bother by gender stereotyping the Devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer or whatever term/label you prefer). He/she/they have also made regular appearances in folk music too. According to The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, he’s even been down to Barnsley. Whatever; Dallhana are in good company. Speak the name and risk the consequences.

Meanwhile – back to Dallahan, a band upon whom a multitude of awards have been bestowed. Guitarist Jack Badcock, banjo maestro Ciaran Ryan, Andrew Waites on accordion and BBC Radio Scotland Young Musician of the Year Benedict Morris on fiddle are an alarmingly talented outfit and unfeasibly duct tape tight. Any sort of liaison or pact with darker powers may indeed have fuelled their skills on an album that’s also their first containing all original music.

Another change is in the songwriting – as in ‘songs’ rather than ‘tunes’ – with three originals, all with a Spanish course running through them, nudged along by history enthusiast Jack Badcock. However, despite those tweaks in the Dallahan framework, their signature vim and verve remain at the core, pulsing through the hugely diverse veins of Speak Of The Devil. Recorded as live as dammit, overdubs and edits at a premium, the energy fairly seeps through the speakers.

From jazz influences, French musettes, Scottish and Irish traditions to Balkan and bluegrass, the whirlwind that kicks off a minute or so into Beaton’s, rarely dies down, although a few pauses for breath are most welcomed. The opening flurry sets the scene with typical aplomb; a chance to marvel at the syncopation of the four instruments – oh the joys of playing live – particularly when the fiddle breaks into a brisk lead just a couple of minutes in.

A lightness accompanies the fanciful air that introduces Alma’s, before the banjo makes way for first fiddle and then accordion, each instrument taking a moment to shine. Pitched with Anchor, it provides a similarly restful and easy ambience (including a Mediterranean interval) around one of the more intense songs, before rounding off in a lively finale.

Not only does the penchant for a bit of history play a significant part, but referencing Laurie Lee and W.B.Yeats’ Easter 1916) sees further literary inspirations play their part, the latter offering variety in the tempo shifts and low key dynamics where you await one of the instruments to step to the plate, swapping places with passages where everyone locks in. The Roma gypsy melody in Durbar Square adds an Eastern European flavour to the mash up whilst the banjo part of Bindolfin could be straight from a Trials Of Cato workout; a bouncy tune, accordion-driven and adding to the general air of joie de vivre.

Of the three songs, each of which delivers its own element of intensity, The Bullet And The Blade is the pick; out standing in the field they say. A genuinely powerful piece, both melancholy and ominous, the ode to the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and its destruction at the hands of the Spanish explorers is evocatively played out; guitar and banjo to the fore with a vocal that nudges into a bluesy inflection. Storytelling verging on the epic given a restrained, brooding maybe, but significant arrangement, overwhelming evidence that the Dallahan dalliance with song has some legs.

Here’s the opening cut, Beaton’s:

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