Four Years in November
In its songs if not in its instrumental workouts, Dulaman -- presumably after the traditional Irish children's song of the same name, best known from Altan's recording of it -- brings to mind the very early Fairport Convention. If, that is to say, that legendary band had been entirely acoustic. True, Sandy Denny's lofty grace is absent, as is Richard Thompson's inimitable gallows humor, but Dulaman affords at least this listener a sense of what Fairport might have become if Iain (then Ian) Matthews, who of the lot had the least interest in actual British folk music, had become the guiding light. Matthews was fascinated by American music, especially its country, pop and folk-lite strains. A sort of British Neil Young, he ended up in Texas, where he lived and recorded for many years before moving on to his current residence, Amsterdam.
From a barebones website, nonexistent liner notes and photographs, I learn that Dulaman's four members live somewhere in Cheshire, England, and that they are much younger than I am. If any is out of his or her 20s, or even close, I'd be surprised. They are Anna Kelly (fiddle), David Pickering (mandolin), Eleanor Cross (double bass) and James Dewdney (guitar). They share vocal duties, each sometimes singing lead, at other times harmony. Their instrumentals, however, are undeniably their strong suit. Their version of the familiar Appalachian fiddle tune "Forked Deer" is sublime, showcasing the band at its most appealing.
As the just-mentioned piece indicates, the Dulamans harbor an undisguised enthusiasm for bluegrass and mountain music, and they have a good-natured English way of performing it. There is even a Cross-penned bluegrass song "Red Curtains" -- more Nickel Creek than Bill Monroe, though.
With an exception or two, their songs are not terribly inspired, perhaps because the voices, literal and metaphorical, are young and speak to points in life's journey we wearier pilgrims passed long ago. My tastes, in any event, don't run to lighter-than-air pop melodies, which may well say more about me than about them. In this regard as in others, Dulaman mirrors another young folk-pop string band, the Winnipeg-based Wailin' Jennys -- in other words, decent interpreters of traditional songs and respectable instrumentalists without a whole lot to distinguish their originals. But I do like Pickering's "Across the Sea," which is surely a step or two or three above Dulaman's other self-generated offerings.
The problem is not the talent (which the band manifestly possesses), just the callow youth from which we all emerge eventually. More experience, life and musical, and Dulaman, if it endures, will get there. A hidden cut at the end, a live jam taking off on the Irish tune known variously as "Little Beggar Man" and "The Red-Haired Boy," lets us know that even now, with the right material, Dulaman can bring it on home.