Girls of the North Country
(Compass, 2011)

Dala, consisting of Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther, is, for those of you who don't watch PBS fundraising specials, a folky acoustic Irish duo from Canada who are coming up fast. This CD is the soundtrack from their 2010 PBS special Girls of the North Country, and in it, they women take on the songs of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, the Band and the McGarrigle Sisters, thereby proving they have taste, and acquit themselves well on them, thereby proving they've got chops. Their original songs are strong, which reinforces the notion of chops.

Their harmonies are fine. They remind me in fact of a more polite version of the Indigo Girls, and I'm aware that statement might sound a trifle disparaging but it isn't meant that way at all. Most of the album consists of Dala, their guitars and their harmonies, but occasionally they supplement the sound by bringing out members of Oh, Susanna and the Good Lovelies, other female Canadian folk bands, and the variety is welcome.

If there is a problem with the music of the Dala, it lies in the very thing that must have made them attractive to PBS in the first place. They can sometimes be too gentle, too fey, substituting charm for rigorous, deeply felt music. After doing a soaring version of the Band's "The Weight," they close the album with a saccharine version of "Goodnight, My Love," a 1950s ballad that was originally slopping in soul the way a slice of meatloaf can be slopping in gravy. Their version, like a couple of other songs on the CD, lacks that fire.

The fact is, I like Dala, their music and this CD. I only wish all of it was as good as the best of it.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

27 August 2011

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