Reveal Records 022CDX
A quarter of a century on from conquering the pop charts with Fairground Attraction, Eddi Reader has comfortably rediscovered her own musical roots, not only in folk music, but the songs she grew up with.
Album opener I’ll Never Be The Same dates from 1932. A few tracks further on, her own Snowflakes In The Sun, co-written with regular collaborators Boo Hewardine and John Douglas, sounds likes it could be from the same vintage with that laid-back swinging groove. Reader has not entirely deserted her pop sensibilities or background. Witness Edinah, inspired by a meeting with a young Amy Winehouse.
In the main, however, Vagabond, its title track a setting of a John Masefield poem, operates in a space between jazz and roots music that somehow allows her to move naturally between the two. She even moves into Capercaillie territory with a bit of the old Gaelic on Buain Na Rainich, helped by pronunciation tips and backing vocals from the band’s Karen Matheson.
Capercaillie stalwarts Donald Shaw, Ewan Vernal and Michael McGoldrick just part of a top notch list of participating musicians that also includes Phil Cunningham and John McCusker. The result is an album as polished and easy on the ear as you would expect from the talent involved.
White Fall Recordings WFRCD008
BBC Radio Scotland made a good call when Emily Smith was picked as the station’s Young Musician of the Year back in 2002. Since then Smith has built a solid career on the Scottish folk scene, holding her own among the more established names of the Transatlantic Sessions television and touring show.
A measure of the respect she is held in by her peers can be gleaned from the company she keeps on latest album Echoes.
Smith and musical and life partner, New Zealand multi-instrumentalist Jamie McClennan, have gathered an impressive team of collaborators from both sides of the Atlantic (and even midway across it if we count Icelandic percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir).
Orkney’s Kris Drever lends his distinctive vocal to opener Reres Hill, Ross-shire’s Matheu Watson is on hand with instrumental support on resonator and guitar, US dobro legend Jerry Douglas leads a US contingent that also includes Crooked Still vocalist Aoife O’Donovan and cellist Natalie Haas.
Despite the star power on hand, producer McClennan knows better than to swamp Smith’s clear and distinctive voice, which rings our crystal pure on Darrell Scott’s contemporary love song The Open Door.
Despite somewhat inaccurate, and unfair, claims of Smith as Scotland’s Joni Mitchell, Echoes sees her refocus attention from her own songs to traditional songs or more recent ones that have been absorbed into the folk tradition, such as Archie Fisher’s Final Trawl. To her credit, Smith makes the familiar material sound fresh, thanks to the combination of the Dumfries singer’s affinity for the songs and the professional production. If there is a fault, it is perhaps that the album is slightly too smooth, dulling the tragic implications of ballads like My Darling Boy or Twa Sisters, but ultimately this is a very satisfying album placing Smith as the Lowland counterpart to Julie Fowlis in bringing traditional music up to date in a contemporary but respectful manner.
Room For Light
Seen recently in the Highlands, Ryan Keen comes tipped by R2 magazine as one of those acts to watch for in 2014. Keen is a singer-songwriter who can waiver between Nick Drake like feyness (Aiming For The Sun) and more breezy and pop friendly tunes in the Faulkner and Nutini mode.
It makes for pleasant rather than challenging listening, with the danger on the odd track of slipping into a James Blunt like blandness, though he does redeem himself with catchy numbers like the gentle blues of Trouble.
Nothing startingly new, but good enough to make for an enjoyable listen.
Inspired by a challenge from classical guitarist Mike Marshall, this album sees one of Scottish folk music’s finest string pickers take on tunes from Bach, Monteverdi and Eric Satie. The title is a loose translation of Les Barricades Mysterieuses, a tune written for the harpsichord by Francois Couperin (1668-1733) which bookends the album, but also nods to the blurring of boundaries between the folk and classical worlds. Boundaries that are distinctly smudged by McManus’s deft technique which translates well to the challenges of the largely Baroque material.
The result is a gently reflective album that touches on the spiritual and deserves a hearing from both classical and trad enthusiasts.
The Long Road and The Far Horizons
Aptly named, this collection of Marwick tunes consists of two generously proportioned discs, The Long Road with 13 tracks and The Far Horizons going one better with 14.
That is a potentially daunting set of tunes, but, like the Journeyman stage show seen recently at Eden Court, it is designed to encapsulate a composing career that began back in 1988 and takes in the fiddle player’s journey through such bands as Iron Horse, Burach, Bellevue Rendezvous and the puntastically named Ceilidh Minogue as well session work for fellow bands and the theatre.
Marwick has called in an impressive cast of collaborators from these bands for the album, but what really ensures that lengthy running time never feels over long is the variety to be found in Marwick’s compositions.
These range from the more obviously tradition influences to be found in the likes of the Kenny MacEwan’s set, some musical travelogues taking in influences from trips to points east, west and north, more atmospheric pieces inspired by the natural world such as Dusk, and touches of jazz with a bit of help from Fraser Fifield’s saxophone.
It also manages a contender for tune title of 2014 in Left at Werewolf.