Dillon & Tyminski

One of Ireland's finest vocalists is supported by American bluegrass legend at the Waterfront Hall

Mention the name Cara Dillon to anyone with a respectable knowledge of music outside of BBC Radio 1’s playlist and that person invariably refers to ‘the voice’ – both noun and adjective.

Dungiven songstress Cara Dillon wields one of Ireland’s great vocal ranges, known for its purity as much as its power, and, as her frequent appearances on native soil suggest, local audiences are no less enchanted by it some 22-years after she first appeared on the scene with Óige.

Her place at the top of the bill in the glamorous surroundings of the Waterfront Hall’s main auditorium on Saturday signals, once again, that Dillon has come a long way from those early days, but this sweet, if ludicrously gifted, Derry girl retains her humble appeal.

More remarkably, that an artist of Dan Tyminski’s accomplishments should agree to support her is indicative of Dillon’s reputation expanding beyond our parochial shores.

A longtime member of bluegrass supergroup Alison Krauss and Union Station, Tyminski is one of America’s leading folk musicians. A man with 14 Grammy awards to his name, he recently enjoyed international mainstream success on Avicii’s ‘Hey Brother’ single, and famously provided the singing voice for George Clooney’s pompous Odyssean charlatan Ulysses Everett McGill in the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Given this weighty résumé, it is somewhat puzzling that so many punters would choose to filter in at their leisure as Tyminski promptly begins his solo set. For those who have bothered to arrive at the stated time, this Tennessee-based Vermont native (the distinctive musical twang contrasts with his clean-cut Yankee tones) opens up with ‘Dust Bowl Children’.

Possessed of a quick-fire refrain and lyrical allusions to prairie life in the Dirty Thirties, this elegant storytelling style has long been the territory of Krauss, Tyminski and company, melodic purveyors of a nation’s folklore.

‘Carry Me Across the Mountain’ comes from a similar place: an arch ditty inspired by the life of the late Appalachian icon Hazel Dickens, uptempo and packed with the sort of rustic imagery inherent to the American songbook.

Easygoing and softly spoken, Tyminski cuts a rather lonesome figure on the Waterfront’s massive stage, though it is not wholly unfamiliar to him; he appeared here in 2010 alongside Dillon, and others, while performing in the Transatlantic Sessions.

‘Down in the Willow Garden’, a tale of murder laced with regret, reeks of mourning. ‘Church Street Blues’ feels almost as elegiac in its delicate, lilting intricacy. He dedicates it to his hero, and the original writer, legendary bluegrass troubadour Tony Rice.

Before he finishes to make way for Dillon – a performer for whom he offers only effusive praise – Tyminski takes a more populist approach. ‘Golf’s a Bitch and Then You Die’ is an irreverent ode to his favourite sport’s maddening nature, a sentiment more than one member of the house appreciates.

And finally ‘Hey Brother’ is a pared-down version of the Avicii single. This latter tune accentuates the singer’s crystal-clear delivery without the distraction of the Swede’s synthy EDM filters.

Dillon brings a more Celtic vibe when her turn comes around. Ably supported by her band of multi-talented musicians, including her husband Sam Lakeman (brother of folk star Seth), she confesses straight away to being relieved, as ever, to be back in ‘God’s own country’. Indeed, the following day she will travel over the Glenshane Pass for a date at the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry.

Whatever her heritage, of course, Dillon is a long-time resident of Frome in Somerset. These experiences have afforded her the opportunity to bridge the gap between distinct musical traditions, and ‘River Run’ represents a telling sign of her eclectic taste.

Its unhurried pace relies on that piercingly beautiful voice and demonstrates her famed facility to sing a ballad like few of her peers. The same could be said of ‘Garden Valley’, though this is, perhaps, a more melodious effort, carried along on the undulating richness of Dillon’s vocals.

She does, however, invoke her roots with the gorgeous ‘Éirigh Suas A Stóirín’. A jaunty affair, it may seem a mystery to those of us who don’t speak Irish but, nevertheless, Dillon’s mastery of the language sounds like an especially refined brand of poetry, even to the unschooled.

She has time also to show off her occasionally overlooked funny bone, introducing the trad-heavy ‘Eighteen Years Old’ as a tale about a teenage girl who wants her mother to buy her a man. ‘So there you go, Niall,’ she says, cheekily, to her company-seeking fiddle player.

Tyminski eventually reappears, too briefly, to engage in the reveries, providing backing on the layered spirituality of ‘Bright Morning Stars’, where classic tropes are honed by Dillon’s confident edge. He saves the best for last, reminding the audience, during a vigorous ensemble piece, that in the years since Clooney first opened his mouth to mime ‘I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow’, the brilliance of this most heralded song endures.

Left to wind down the show, Dillon’s ‘Black is the Colour’ sounds like an aged old faithful, yet in her capable care it is as exquisite as it ever was. Agile and emotional, Dillon’s love for this music is almost tangible. The audience cannot help but be moved. Fittingly, her encore, a haunting rendition of ‘The Parting Glass’, presses the same buttons. We have heard this all before, sure, but it is still terribly lovely.

Visit the Waterfront Hall website for information on forthcoming concerts.

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