march 2011

Dala: (from left) Sheila Carabine, Amanda Walther: appropriately enough, in it for the long haul

They Come With Tomorrows

South of the border, down America way, Dala makes an impression

Compass Records

Well established, even beloved, in their native Canada, the duo of Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine, collectively known as Dala, made a move toward greater North American recognition last summer with the PBS airing of their concert Girls From the North Country, from which this CD is drawn. (This is the duo’s fifth album, but its first with a U.S.-based label.) Dala writes terrific original songs and approaches its intelligent covers with respect for the originals and an understanding of how to bring a fresh perspective to the time-honored texts of great songwriters.

They prove the latter point right away, opening with a delicate, dramatic reading of Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” that alternates between breathy, wistful passages and soaring, aching cries that underscore the narrator’s sense of loss in ways that have escaped other interpreters more concerned with effect than process. The utter devastation of heartbreak has rarely been chronicled as searingly, or poetically, as in Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s “Heart Like a Wheel,” and Dala understands this truth. Two monumental versions of this song exist, both coming in 1975, on the McGarrigles’ essential debut album and in the Linda Ronstadt version that launched her onto a whole other plane as an interpretive singer; Dala takes on neither of those but rather blends the distinctive textures of their lovely voices--Walther’s evocative soprano, Carabine’s sturdy alto--to probe a bluesier side of the song. Accompanied only by piano, their reading falls somewhere between a torch song and a Baptist hymn. When they get to the Irish traditional number “Red Is the Rose,” they may be going up against Makem and Clancy and the Chieftains (with Nancy Griffith), but their guitar-and-vocal duet, pristine and poignant, stands on its own as a moving vow of enduring love (they don’t sing the tragic last verse).

Dala, ‘Horses,’ an original song as performed on the duo’s live CD,
Girls From the North Country

Sharp songwriters in their own right, Dala’s “Marilyn Monroe” is both tough and tender in importuning girls to seize every moment in their ever evolving lives. (Marilyn is merely a touchstone for a deeper discussion of self-esteem and self-assertiveness). A blithe spirit animates their upbeat “Sunday Dress”--both in the uptempo rhythm of the Dala guitars and in the gals’ good-natured vocalizing--but underneath it are vexing questions about, again, identity and self-worth, this time in the context of a conflicted relationship. Their piano ballad “Horses” is, well, a horse of a different color. Stark and somber expanding into an anguished wail in its verses when the arrangement is buttressed by a cello’s funereal mourning, “Horses” describes the interior lives of a boy and a girl whose only freedom is found in dreams where they are who they want to be, because in this world “I don’t like my photos and I hate the sound of the world outside.” It’s left for the listener to decide if Dala, in their plaintive, winsome harmonies in the verses and forthright declaiming in the verses, are talking about people who in fact are already dead, hence free, or resigned to living as recluses--either way the question of when anyone is truly “free” hangs in the air like Dickens’s mist, much as the text echoes the great author’s observation in Great Expectations that “few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror.”

Dala, ‘Sunday Dress,’ live at Vinyl Café. A Dala original included on the live album, Girls From the North Country. (This performance is not from the live album, fyi.)

Note too that these girls from the North Country number more than Dala’s two on this occasion. A powerful rendering of “The Weight,” the concert’s penultimate number, brings them together with fellow Canadian distaff artists O Susanna and the Good Lovelies. They pass the vocals around, harmonize immaculately, and fashion a restrained, spiritually resonant ambiance (the spare banjo plunking surfacing courtesy the Lovelies’ Kerri Ough combines with the churchy piano to lend the performance a country gospel feel) that must have been quite something to experience in person. After that benediction, Dala sends everyone home on a dreamy note, with a seductive reading of the Spaniels’ classic “Goodnight My Love,” their voices blending alluringly in close, Chordettes-like harmony as Ms. Carabine chops out chords on her ukulele. Those who enjoyed the PBS special (the DVD of the concert is available at amazon) know what to expect; those who missed it will find this CD a splendid introduction to a duo that appears to be in it for the long haul, as well they should. To paraphrase a sentiment from a cheesy romance novel they read while touring Canada and from which they have posted their favorite quotes on their website, they come with tomorrows.

Dala’s Girls From the North Country is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024