Danú’s Think Before You Think 

MI0002131463It’s a great pleasure to begin the a new year with an album of Irish music that is filled with stellar arrangements, tunes and songs that don’t pop up on every second disc, fine musicianship and a one of those famous Irish tenor voices singing the traditional style. Danú hail from near Cork, and made quite a splash last summer playing the Canadian folk festivals. I happened to catch up with them at the Winnipeg Fest for a chat. Danú are special for several reasons, not the least of which is what I call the musicianship-to-age ratio, which is quite high and bodes well for their future. They have some might fine players, and all seem to be young and extremely accomplished. The band also has an extensive line-up with Tom Doorley on flutes and low whistle, Eamon Doorley on bouzouki and mandola, Brendan McCarthy on button accordion, Jesse Smith on fiddle and viola, Noel Ryan on guitar, Donnchadh Gough on bodhran and uilleann pipes, and vocalist Ciarán Ó Gealbháin.

A line-up of seven makes for a varied album that gives each of the players a chance to shine. Think begins with an original flute composition by Tom Doorley, entitled “Are You Ready Yet,” but he soon turns over the melody to Smith on fiddle, who in turn gives way to McCarthy on button accordion. He is joined at the end by both Doorley and McCarthy. Ó Gealbháin takes center stage next with the light-hearted “Green Brooms.”

I suspect this is a song near and dear to every musicians heart, because in it the son of a broom cutter wins the lady when forced by his father to get out of bed and work for his living. Having a large ensemble not only forces Danú to take turns carrying the melody, but allows them to create interesting arrangements, as there are plenty of candidates to support whoever is carrying the melody. The band also shows admirable restraint, resisting the temptation to have everyone play on each tune, opting instead for variety and elegance.

Think continues on in this fashion, mixing original tunes written seamlessly in the traditional form with a wonderful selection of songs and instrumentals. With so much music pouring out of Ireland in recent years, it’s refreshing to hear such a great selection of tunes from a young group. I particularly liked the arrangement on a set composed of “The Cameron Highlander” and “The Blackthorn Stick,” which is jaunty and perfectly balances melody with light percussion. Another impressive set was composed of “The Old Ruined Cottage in the Glen,” “Morning Dew,” “Think Before You Think Before You Speak,” and “The First Month of Spring,” and not only because this set has some names nearly as long as the tunes themselves!

Ó Gealbháin sings in both English and Irish Gaelic on two love songs, the sad “Eochaill” and the lovely, light hearted “An Páistín Fionn.” His voice is sincere and hurt on “Fair and Tender Ladies” without sounding forced as the young woman expresses her regret at opening her heart. He also does a fine job on the Child Ballad “The Outlandish Knight” telling the tale of a young woman who thwarts a serial killer, while retaining a curious relationship with her talking parrot after her escape.

If you are a fan of traditional Irish music you must hear this album. With so much music pouring out of Ireland and so much enthusiasm and talent among younger players, it is difficult to predict who will carry the torch of elegance going forward. My bets are on Danú. They shine as a group and as individual musicians. Good on ya lads! And start working on the next album soon!

(Shanachie, 2000)

About Kim Bates

Kim Bates, former Music Review Editor, grew up in and around St. Paul/Minneapolis and developed a taste for folk music through housemates who played their music and took her to lots of shows, as well as KFAI community radio, Boiled in Lead shows in the 1980s, and the incredible folks at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which she’s been lucky to experience for the past 10 years. Now she lives in Toronto, another city with a great and very accessible music and arts scene, where she teaches at the University of Toronto. She likes to travel to beautiful nature to do wilderness camping, but she lives in a city and rides the subway to work. Some people might say that she gets distracted by navel gazing under the guise of spirituality, but she keeps telling herself it’s Her Path. She’s deeply moved by environmental issues, and somehow thinks we have to reinterpret our past in order to move forward and survive as cultures, maybe even as a species.

Her passion for British Isles-derived folk music, from both sides of the Atlantic, seems to come from this sense about carrying the past forward. She tends to like music that mixes traditional musical themes with contemporary sensibilities — like Shooglenifty or Kila — or that energizes traditional tunes with today’s political or personal issues — like the Oysterband, Solas, or even Great Big Sea. She can’t tolerate heat and humidity, but somehow she finds herself a big fan of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys (Louisana), Regis Gisavo (Madagascar), and various African and Caribbean artists — always hoping that tour schedules include the Great White North.