A simple scan down the list of song titles on this extensive album tells you all you need to know about the world you’re about to enter. There are ‘shores’ and ‘gardens’ and ‘fighting men’ and ‘reels’ as well as a ‘lassie’, ‘foggy dew’ and (memorably) ‘turkey in the straw’! The fact that all of these songs have been captured live adds an extra dimension to the authenticity and atmosphere it conveys.
If you’re not familiar with the wares of a ‘Ballad Folk and Rebel Band’, you could do a lot worse than start right here. A collection of upbeat reels, thoughtful historical reminiscences and occasional down tempo, plaintive narratives, Live From the Dingle Pub is a fantastic showcase for close harmony singing and highly accomplished playing. The combination of various guitars, bass and whistles knit together in that oh-so-familiar way that has seen the combination transcend fashion and time. A few seconds in to any of these (highly accomplished) songs instantly transports the listener to the Dingle Pub.
In an age of pitch correction and quantised instruments, here is a journey into sound that allows you to hear every pluck, every strum and every word with a vibrancy and clarity that speaks volumes about the live experience and about an exceptionally well-rehearsed band that have been honing their craft and chemistry together to the greatest extent.
A word here about historical lyrical content. Any band hailing from Ireland that promotes ‘telling the story of Irish history through song and music’ will (almost) inevitably come across controversy and politics as a matter of course. Rebel songs, by their very nature, discuss rebellion. That means two opposing points of view. And whilst an accurate recounting of troubles past shouldn’t necessarily shy away from the trickier facts or opinions of the matter, Stereo Stickman doesn’t sit in judgement upon anything except musical prowess, so we’ll be refraining from commenting upon any political views. Irish rebel songs extol the deeds of actual or fictitious participants of rebellion against English or British rule: that’s their function.
Thus, within this collection, we have covers of material like Come Out You Black and Tans and Fighting Men of Crossmaglen rubbing shoulders with instrumentals like Turkey in the Straw, which is two and a half minutes of frenetic playing with the caller giving shouts of encouragement to the audience while the tempo is cranked faster and faster. It’s an impressive feat of musicianship all round and leaves the audience breathless with exhilaration.
This mix of lyric-heavy story-telling and instrumental excuses to dance until you drop is a heady one indeed. The authentic (there’s that word again) Irish delivery and mellifluous nature of whistles and rapid-fire plucking are transformative.
When people reviewing music talk of ‘tightness’ in appreciation of great playing, they are referring to how syncopated and rhythmically similar the individually played parts are – the doubling-up of sung melody and accompanying whistle playing, for example, is so ‘tight’, you’d be hard-pushed to slide a sheet of paper between them! And yet the performances are so laced with humanity…. it’s so impressive (and there’s that word again).
For instance, the changes of tempo and rhythm within the body of Celtic Symphony would never feel this vibrant if reproduced by machine. The living, breathing heart of Dreams of Freedom will sweep up the listener and carry them away to another time and place.
There are too many highlights to list individually within a review like this, but Dreams of Freedom clearly dream of freedom, and aren’t afraid to let their optimistic exuberance for their aims spread over their performances. They describe their ‘number one priority’ as ensuring their audience has a great time and enjoys the gig experience. Judging by the quality of the performance captured at this gig, they are very much on target.