For St. Patrick's Day, Give Dervish a Whirl

Thrush in the Storm (2013)
Whirling Discs
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Happy St. Patrick's Day! If you want to celebrate in style, forget the green beer and bad bar bands—download a few tracks from one of Ireland's best, Dervish. This veteran band has been around since 1989, and Irish music doesn't get much better than what Dervish cranks out. And you can start with this: any list of great female vocalists that doesn't have Cathy Jordan's name near the top should be ignored as rubbish.

Thrush in the Storm came out in 2013, but it's gotten a new push as a download—either single tracks or the entire shebang. I'd recommend the latter, but here's some info for those wishing to discover Dervish one track at a time. If you like sets with complex overlays, check out the instrumental titled "Green Crowned Lass," in which flutes and whistles intersect, depart, and whip up a hearty musical stew. Another Dervish instrumental staple is the patching together of tunes that start humbly, wend their way to a bridge, make a split second stop, and then leap into a heart-stopping pace. "Maggie's Lilt" is a good example of this. Shane Mitchell's accordion appears first as a flash, then disappears, and reemerges when the lilt becomes a sprint. The title tune is another example. Dervish doesn't rush at you all at once. Their sets are like Lego blocks—the pieces snap together piece by piece until the small becomes mighty; in this case, until a slow hornpipe becomes a fast reel.

A lot of Celtic bands use songs to slow the pace. Not Dervish. When Ms. Jordan steps up to the mic, it's often with bodhran in hand as she intends to command the tempo in every way imaginable. Thrush in the Storm contains mostly traditional songs, but with Jordan's twist on them. She revives "Handsome Polly," in part because it's one of the rare trad songs in which the woman is left standing at the end. In this case a dragoon captain dies of a broken heart after being spurned by a comely maid. "Snoring Biddy," which Jordan fashioned from incomplete snippets, is more gruesome in that a husband murders his wife, but Jordan's tongue-twisting treatment is so robust you may be too busy tapping your toes to notice the tragedy. A personal favorite is "Baba Chonraol," which opens with a simple drone-like arrangement until the bouzouki comes in and Jordan's voice becomes what dance sounds like. The song then evolves into a kind of nouveau medievalism that's at once ancient, yet new. Like I said, Irish music doesn't get much better than this. --Rob Weir

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