Joy Dunlop

Faileasan [Reflections]

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Joy Dunlop's first album, Dùsgadh ("Awakening"), was rooted in tradition but saw a number of detours into a more contemporary sound, notably the smoky electric jazz arrangement of "Taighean Geala" and the avant-chamber strings on "Thig am Bàta". This sophomore effort is more staunchly traditionalist, albeit with a touch of modernity in some of the piano arrangements. It's also a concept album of sorts inspired by Dunlop's native Argyll: all the songs are from there, and all the musicians who played on it, and it was recorded there as well. It kicks off with "Ma Phòsas Mi Idir, Cha Ghabh Mi Tè Mhòr" ("If I Marry At All, I Won’t Wed a Big Girl"). The skirling of the pipes gives it an eerie, almost otherworldly quality, but it's clearly a tongue-in-cheek choice of song, the leggy Dunlop being over six feet tall. The beautiful love poem "An Roghainn" ("The Promise"), by legendary Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean, is set to a wonderful piano-led arrangement with some exceptional backing musicianship, particularly the heartstring-tugging fiddle trills towards the end. Indeed, the instrumentation throughout the album is faultless and at times stunningly gorgeous, the accordion on the lovely lullaby "Crònan Chàrsaig" being a case in point. The album plays with expectations a little bit -- "Hi Il Ò 'S Na Hug I Hò Ro", a nonsense title which seems to presage a lively jig, is in fact a haunting love song, while "'S Daor A Cheannaich Mi 'Phòg" ("Dearly I Paid for the Kiss") is a rolling, uptempo work song with a sweet chorus of female backing vocalists and some superb whistle playing. The production is big and open, with lots of natural-sounding reverb, especially on the piano and vocals, as though they had been recorded in a big hall or a church. One of the most modern-sounding tracks is "'S Fhad' an Seallach" which features full drum kit, harmonium, and fiddle plucked to sound like a banjo, and sees Dunlop dueting with an antique vocal sample of an aged woman. There's also a lovely set of stomping puirt à beul aimed squarely at the dancefloor, and the obligatory a cappella lament in the shape of "Cumha Chailein Ghlinn Iubhair". The album's closer is also its best track, a beautiful piano-led setting of the poem "Taigh an Uillt", which pays heartfelt tribute to the town of Taynuilt in Argyll, the warmth of its people and the glory of its surroundings. Its almost Disneyesque interludes of flute and violin lead into a final stirring, swelling chorus where Dunlop sings her heart out. Much has been made of Dunlop's voice, and while it has the exceptional sweetness and clarity so prized by aficionados of Gaelic singing, she occasionally sounds as though she is straining at the top of her range. This is a minor quibble, however; this album is a triumph, revealing new riches with each listen, and comes unreservedly recommended to all fans of Celtic and "world" music.

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