There’s nothing like putting the pressure on with the title of an album. ‘The Great Irish Songbook’ sets a very high bar for this work from Dervish.

Dervish has been playing live and recording for more than thirty years. They have built up a deserved reputation for delivering top quality playing of Irish traditional music. Alongside this perhaps their most distinguishing feature is the singing of Cathy Jordan. So it’s interesting that on this work, the big twist is the addition of guest singers on almost all the songs. The range of singers is impressive; Vince Gill, Andrea Corr, Kate Rusby, Steve Earle, Imelda May, and Rhiannon Giddens.

I think these types of guest vocalist works are easier to produce in this digital age than they were back when bands like the Chieftans were pioneering the concept. Perhaps there is something lost in not having, as I suspect, band and singers in the studio together. Notwithstanding this and the fairly unadventurous choice of some of the material, there is some very fine singing and playing on offer here.

Some guest artists work better than others. My favourites are Kate Rusby’s ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, ‘The Early Morning Dew’ sung by Rhiannon Giddens and old and hackneyed as it is, Imelda May’s ‘Molly Malone’. Steve Earle’s version of the ‘Galway Shawl’ adds a very interesting coda to his own ‘Galway Girl’ – more encounters with young women while out walking the roads in the west.

One or two of the others are less fresh and inspiring but overall lots to enjoy and sing along with here. There are two fine performances on ‘‘The Rambling Irishman’ and ‘Donal Og’ from Cathy Jordan and lots of lovely backing vocals from her highly distinctive voice.

I can see this selling well at the merchandise table after Dervish shows, particularly in America. You could definitely buy worse versions of these great Irish songs.

‘The Great Irish Songbook’ is released on 12th April 2019 on Rounder Records.