After many years as a member of Deanta, and guest appearances on most of sister Cara’s albums, Mary Dillon’s return from hiatus with her debut solo album has attracted no little attention.
Following 2010’s Army Dreamers EP of covers, featuring the titular Kate Bush song as well as Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’ and Ola Belle Reed’s ‘Undone In Sorrow’, North sees Dillon back on far more traditional ground.
The stunning voice runs in the family – like her younger sibling, Mary won the all-Ireland singing contest in her teens – and so does the ability to pluck at the heartstrings. ‘John Condon’ is the tale of a teenage Irish soldier killed in the First World War – he was believed to have been the youngest Allied soldier killed in the conflict, at 14, though contradictory evidence exists to suggest he was 18 when he died and that the body in his grave has been misidentified. Dillon sang on the original demo of the song in 2003 and her solo rendition is the likeliest song here to emulate Cara’s breakthrough song, her breathtaking version of the traditional song ‘There Were Roses’.
Similarly affecting are ‘The Month of January’ and ‘The Boatman’, a self-penned tale of all-consuming desire for a love lost at sea, is and showcases Dillon’s vocals at their strongest – as does her a cappella performance on the closing ‘Ard Tí Chuain’.
There is little experimental here – if you’ve heard Cara’s music, you’ll know what to expect and the album can become a bit samey – but for fans of very traditional folk music, Dillon delivers a performance of beautiful restraint.
Words: Tom White