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DANU - "Think Before You Think" - Shanachie 78030

Danu are one of the most dynamic bands I have heard live in the last couple of years, and their second CD captures the buzz they create in their live performance. Their sound is based on having quality front line players with a strong traditional base, individual flair, and a good understanding of each other's playing that lets them throw in individual variations losing the momentum of the whole group.

From the slow reel that starts the first track it's obvious that here are guys who can play a bit. You might argue that Tom Doorley's flute style owes a bit much to Matt Molloy, (long smooth flute lines with subtle swells and dips, and little flourishes of grace notes) but does it matter when he can do it as well as this? Jesse Smith has a strong bowing style on fiddle which adds a nice rhythmic punctuation to Doorley's playing. I particularly liked his solo on the self-penned 'Paddy Rainey's Jig'. Benny McCarty's accordion adds a great bounce and off-beat lift, most obvious in his barndance solo, but still there on full-tilt reel sets. His studies with the Clare accordion legend Bobby Gardiner, and his work to bring a melodeon feel into his accordion playing have obviously paid off. When all three get up steam towards of a tune set brief snatches of variation or counter melody bounce from one to the other - it may not be totally spontaneous, but it does feel like it.

Danu are a band where the melody instruments drive things forward with the rhythm players supporting them, rather than laying down a beat for them to follow - just the opposite of some of the fusion approaches that have been fashionable in recent years. But the guitar and bouzouki playing is no less good for being unobtrusive for much of the time. Donnchadh Gough's bodhran too gives a solid foundation to the music, and when they let him loose on his pipes he turns in an equally rock steady performance with echoes of the older style of players such as O'Flynn or Ennis.

Ciaran O Gealbhain's five songs provide not just the icing on the cake, but another cake. He is for me simply one of Ireland's finest young male singers, and Danu have the musical sensitivity to keep the backing arrangements uncluttered to let the quality of his voice speak for itself. He brings from the Gaelic singing scene a strong melodic voice and a distinctive style that enables him to make songs in English his own, even where, as with 'the Outlandish Knight', they are taken from artists of the calibre of Nic Jones (the full sleeve notes acknowledge sources for all the songs and tunes). Reaction to vocal styles is a personal thing, but to my ears all of the songs, in English and Gaelic are excellent. If pushed I might pick out his interpretation of 'Fair and Tender Ladies' - the poignancy of the singing highlighted by the sensitivity of the guitar and mandola accompaniment, and the deliberate simplicity of the whistle solo.

It's no surprise that Danu are so popular in Ireland at the moment. If you are looking for spirited playing that brings to mind the great instrumental groups of the past, and a quality of singing equal to any of them, you shouldn't miss this.

Richard Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 38 of The Living Tradition magazine.