Daithi RUA, Black Fox, Wild Boar Music WBM 21091 (new website: www.daithirua.com with links to MySpace, Facebook and Twitter)
David Donegan, A.K.A. Red David, A.K.A. Daithi Rua in Gaelic is an Irish singer-songwriter from County Offaly, who dwells the streets of Gent since 2000. He feels well at home there with all these Irish pubs and heaps of fans of Irish Music (and rugby) About his life and times you can read at www.folkroddels.be the interview that he had with our Pitman at the occasion of the release of his second CD ‘BLACK FOX’, all about the genesis of the record, the choice of the title, emotionally so heavily laden, a survey of the songs, the modus operandi in the studio, his relationship with the many musicians and guests on ‘Black Fox’. The article also focuses on Daithi’s next moves. We’ll just fill in, repeat when necessary and concentrate on the songs.
No doubt about it: Daithi doesn’t care much about what the outside world might think and that’s for the better, because you’re definitely screwed if you depend on what the national media think of you, media for whom the toupee of crooner Helmut Lotti is far more important news than any serious CD release. So Daithi continues his professional career somewhat under the radar in Belgium, Ireland and wherever they want him. He has a large fan base in Norway and often performs there. Yet his work has been covered quite regularly by acts like COMAS, Randall Williams, Helen Flaherty, PADDY MYRPHY’S WIFE… Davey Arthur (of the FUREYS, who were one of the bands covering ‘More Than I Can Say’ that Daithi never recorded himself) calls him ‘The real deal singer-songwriter’.
There was already a CD, ‘Better The Devil You Know’ on Lacha Records in 2002, but Daithi considers the new one to be his real debute because ‘Black Fox’ forms a whole (he’s had ample time to gather a large basis for selection, songs who had the opportunity to ripen quite a number of years) and it’s a tremendous leap forward on the level of production. Daithi produced the record himself, together with Erwin Libbrecht (KADRIL), also the boss of record company Wild Boar Music. The CD matches closely his live work, despite of the many guests (from Ireland, Belgium, Holland and Norway) and a full sound spectre. This is in part the result of putting the voices well to the fore in the mix. This echo of the live situation is of prime importance as Daithi always was and will be a stage beast. He doesn’t need more than his voice and ‘Fat Lady 1’, the blonde… acoustic guitar of the Australian manufacturer Cole Clark, whose quality products he promotes.
But there’s always room for someone more on stage, like Marijke Peters, girl gifted with an angel’s voice. On the CD she takes care of many of the backing vocals. It could as well be Fre Vandaele (of Paddy Murphy’s Wife) on tin whistles. If needed, the singer can be a band: for years Daithi has been working with the same people, which accounts for the obvious cohesion. Dutch keyboard player Ed Veltrop is such a faithful sideman. In 2004 we saw Daithi make a strong impression as support for the Waterboys in the HA’ndelsbeurs in Gent, also the year he performed at the major Dranouter Folk Festival. These last months we saw him several times, once even from the load in to the load out, always a good, no nonsense way to figure out what the artist is about in different aspects of his work. We had to skip the official presentation of the CD in the Celtic Towers, great Irish pub in the heart of Gent, due to an all important mission (babysit) But Sterrekruid of Folkroddels wrote a piece on the reopening of De Heksenketel (February 15th), a former folk club in the center of Antwerp which turned into an Irish pub. There Daithi was the starting point of what hopefully is once more going to become a long tradition and this gig could stand for any other one.
All originals on ‘Black Fox’, with the exception of traditional New Orleans related ‘Pontchartrain’, but this got new lyrics and, as was to be expected, dealing with hurricane Katrina: ‘We waited till help came / but none did come from Washington…’ The song indeed is the most traditionally sounding track on the record, with David Munnelly on piano and accordion, and Siard de Jong on whistles. The other songs might be considered typical of any singer-songwriter of today: there’s a bit of all the favourite kinds of music the artist and his audience listens to, and that’s a lot. Daithi: ‘…There’s even jazz!’ Still, Celtic and specifically Irish roots always shimmer through, which again is a uniting element in ‘Black Fox’.
The CD opens up with the hopeful and joyous sounding ‘Soldier On’. It’s Daithi’s credo, while the life of the singer-songwriter on the road is compared to that of a foot soldier, a question of daily survival. Well known guitarist Dirk Verhegge (of KADRIL fame) plays the banjo (the instrument he began with) and the electric guitar. ‘Loving All The Rain’ describes the strange and somehow unavoidable meeting of two people condemned to each other. Ed Veltrop takes care of piano, hammond and strings in a ballad that’s lyrically imbued in tenderness. Love gives the singer wings, even without power drinks: ‘I want to be her song, her Do-Re-Mi / The one who can unlock her with the perfect key.’ Though ‘Loving All The Rain’ has an autobiographical touch, it’s sure likely to be covered.
In the next song, the title tune, emotion strikes again but this time it’s pure sadness, for what drives a young person to take his own life, while many are presented the bill for something that has nothing to do with them, for which they are not to blame, like victims of long forgotten wars? ‘Vanna’s Blue Laces’ tells the tale of farmer’s daughter Vanna Ocurn from Battambang, whose life was turned upside down by a land mine. Every thirty minutes someone is maimed or killed by these filthy, treacherous weapons, though the conflicts have vanished. Daithi’s moving plea has been picked up by an organisation that actively fights this madness (www.handicapinternational.be)
‘Better Again’, a duet with Marijke, points out that old love never rusts and that, who knows, a second chance might come ‘round the bend. But ‘Go Then’, that describes the stadium before that, namely the ultimate goodbye, fosters the hope that the pain one day withers and dies. Never a happy soul in love and relationships! This disguised waltz has a Norwegian input: Monika Nordli sings in duet and Ola Torgeir fills in masterly on pedal steel and mandolin (made of Norwegian Wood?) The lively ‘Zaventem My Girl’ takes a high flight and would have been a perfect single… on another planet. It’s been a long time stage favourite, finally on CD. ‘Causeway’ has already been covered (Daithi is quite pleased with the Comas version) and that’s no wonder: the powerful metaphor makes the song rise well above the pack. The same can be said about the closing homage ‘ghost rider in the sky’ Johnny Cash, ‘Sail Away (Man In Black)’, a singalong in the making. In between these tow instant classics ‘Distant Diamond’ is shining like a dark diamond. This ode to true love might be looked over, but it possesses fine lyrics. Daithi looks at the noble feelings from the point of view of the ‘him’ and the ‘her’.
We live in times when the mayonnaise has to catch immediately or else you throw it way (*) Likewise the musician of today has to be ‘transgressing boundaries, original and different’ (that is, just as ‘transgressing boundaries, original and different’ as the next British or American band that happens to be in the spotlights) If possible the artist has to wreck havoc on his way and destroy holy houses. Measured by that ‘standard’, ‘Black Fox’ is an unremarkable record, no match for the trendy, carefully designed ‘products’ that majors serve. But it is indeed a carefully tended, warm, honest song collection, made with lots of devotion and passion, a collection of songs on a human scale, forming one entity. It is the creation of a likeable bloke who has actually many a story to tell. It takes time to get to the bottom of his ponderings, time that seems to be lacking so desperately nowadays, but, in ten years or so, ‘Black Fox’ will be standing, and that’s something we might not say from all the momentarily popular ‘foxes’.
Antoine Légat (Dutch original published at www.folkroddels.be March 28th 2010; rather faithful translation, at least in spirit, March 29th 2010)
(*) I refer to a saying launched by a Belgian politician: he meant that to get results in a particular matter all elements had to match, or else there would be no result at all. Belgian politicians are always slow to ketchup on things!