Cara Dillon

Sweet Liberty

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In the accompanying photography to her second album, Cara Dillon looks anywhere but directly at the camera. She dwells on the daisies spreading before her, or gazes out of frame toward an unseen vanishing point. The art direction suggests Dillon might be a bit uncomfortable with the hubbub her debut brought, and her sudden role as the beguiling young savior of contemporary Irish folk music. Sweet Liberty retains the structure of that album, mixing traditional with original material. But as effortlessly beautiful as Dillon's voice is throughout, the album's emotional center is brittle. "Right well do I remember now/Those happy childhood days," she sings over swells of harmonium and keyboard. "No other joys I know/For my heart remains on the verdant plains/Near the winding river Roe" -- the traditional's words have a new gravity in the context of Dillon's career. The same holds true for the longing soldier's lament "Bonny Bonny," reborn here in a lush arrangement of Uillean pipes and martial drums. Appropriately, Dillon and partner Sam Lakeman recorded Sweet Liberty at home. Those comfortable environs appear in the shadows of "Erin the Green," dedicated to "Mammy and Daddy" and warmed by piano and melodica; the original "High Tide" -- while it somehow recalls Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" -- is also glanced with the bright song of a flute, even if it ultimately seems forlorn. "Everywhere" avoids that emotion, since it's a pretty little aside seemingly destined for single status. And yet, Sweet Liberty has also received notice for Dillon's affecting version of "There Were Roses," Tommy Sands' powerful tale of the Troubles, religion, and bitter resignation. This is the emotional seesaw of Sweet Liberty. Its arrangements are so graceful, and Dillon's voice is like woven silk. But there is an overriding sense of sighing defense, that she's performing the music this way to reclaim it, to return it to a personal level, and the places -- kitchen tables, quiet hillsides, empty pubs, and reflective memory -- where the music has always been most powerful.

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