By Daniel Neely
This week I’ve been listening to Danny Diamond’s forthcoming album “Elbow Room: Solo Fiddle Music from Ireland” and I must say, I’m seriously impressed. It’s a true solo fiddle album – no accompaniment – but it has a superior creative vision, which gives it a rare mix of complexity and depth. At the same time, the execution isn’t so overloaded as to distract listeners from the musicality that’s on display. These elements in combination make “Elbow Room” a fascinating, enjoyable album, and one that I would expect will attract the immediate attention of anyone who loves traditional music.
Regular readers will recognize Diamond’s name from columns past. Born in Belfast, but now living in Dublin, he’s got a good few releases under his belt, including his 2014 solo debut “Fiddle Music” as well as CDs with the bands Slow Moving Clouds and Morga. But few might realize the various other hats he wears as well: he’s a composer (he wrote for “Swan Lake / Loch na hEala,” an award-winning dance theater piece, and “What To Bring When We Leave,” a poetry and music collaboration), a researcher (he worked for the Irish Traditional Music Archive from 2006-2016 and among other things he managed their collections of historic and contemporary field recordings), and a sound engineer (his projects include Lynched/Lankum’s brilliant debut), and honestly, it seems there isn’t much he doesn’t do and do well.
Diamond appears to have brought all these talents to bear on “Elbow Room.” Put on the CD and the first things one will notice are the recording’s intimate feel as well as the tonal depth and control in Diamond’s playing. Probably no coincidence, as he can boast of having recorded, mixed, mastered and produced this one himself.
But his framing only serves to highlight the heavy lifting one finds Diamond doing in the music. The tunes he’s selected (which includes new compositions and traditional tunes) are carefully chosen and seem to reflect the various facets of his musical and professional life. (Including, I would add, his passion for the music of Tommie Potts.) The result here is an extremely compelling album from top to bottom. Its opener “Maureen from Gibberland,” which features a song air followed by a jig, is lovely, but it’s his engagement with the guts of the tune, how he uses subtle variation, creative bow work, and double stop harmonies to tease out a sense of character, that speak to me as a listener on this and really every track. The slow air “An Buachaillín Bán” is another example of Diamond really digging into and coming to terms with the expressive possibilities of a tune, but doing it with a sense of history and how his approach might articulate with performances past. Another example of this is heard in “The Swan,” which displays a similarly high level of expressive engagement.
The album’s highlight for me, however, has to be “The Blackbird,” which is played as a slow air and followed by a jig and two reels. The languid gravitas you hear at the track’s outset transitions to an ever-increasing intensity with each change in dance rhythm. By the end, you find you’ve been on some kind of journey. It’s an incredibly compelling track.
“Elbow Room” is an album that’s on the cutting edge of virtuosity. Diamond plays somewhere in the Liam O’Connor-Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh constellation of contemporary fiddlers, but he possesses a sound and musical sensibility all his own. It’s this sense of musicality that has yielded an album full of nuance and diversity, despite the limited palette of only a single fiddle. It’s impressive stuff. This one’s very highly recommended in general but a must hear for the fiddle minded among you. “Elbow Room” is due for release on October 26. For more info and to order, visit dannydiamond.ie.
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music each week in the Irish Echo.