Published: 21/01/2014 12:08 - Updated: 21/01/2014 14:52

Folk and roots CD reviews

Written byCalum Macleod

 Duncan Chisholm

Live At Celtic Connections

Copperfish CPFCD006

Starting with the spine-tinging beauty of Unknown Air before gently picking up the pace with The Farley Bridge, Duncan Chisholm’s first live album under his own name is not just a showcase for his playing.

It also serves as a one disc introduction to his ambitious Strathglass Trilogy, and on the basis of this, anyone with a taste for fine fiddling who does not already own those three albums, Canaich, Farrar and Affric, should immediately go out and make a purchase.

Chisholm’s eloquent playing is set against not only a hand picked band of his peers from the folk world, but a string and brass ensemble conducted by Garry Walker, yet that faultless fiddle is always to the fore. However, Ross-shire musician Matheu Watson does deserve special mention for a gentle guitar solo on the reprise of Lorient Mornings that easily stands comparison with Chisholm’s playing.

Many of the tunes are penned by others, but Chisholm is a skilled enough player to make them his own, especially given the close personal connection to Strathglass where his family have lived for 700 years.

The jaunty The Erchless Scout/Issac’s Welcome To The World, written by Chisholm for his grandfather and son respectively, cement that personal touch and might just be the stand-out track, though it is a close call.

Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire

Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire

Middle of Nowhere MON08

Released on Ullapool-based Loopallu and RockNess mastermind Rob Hicks’ own label, this also marks something of a sea-change for songwriter Hart, moving away from his previous solo singer-songwriter performer to frontman of a band. Live and on disc, the Lonesome Fire certainly give every indication of being a proper band rather than simply Hart’s backing group, though their tight sound does give Hart a solid base on which to build his songs. Think Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers with a Celtic tinge.

Hart’s voice is still out to the fore and the songs are very much his creation, but this is very much a single unit rather than one man and his backing band. And pretty good live too.

Various

The Floors O’ The Forest

Greentrax  CDTRAX1513

Bannockburn may be the big battle anniversary this year, but 2013 marked 500 years since another of Scotland’s big three battles, the destruction of King James IV and his army at Flodden.

A national disaster for Scotland, it may have been, but this Greentrax compilation is even handed in having contributors from both sides of the border, though naturally the balance is geared more towards this side of Tweed. High calibre performers like Karine Polwart and Dick Gaughan (who sings a moving version of the title song), appear on the first disc with the material both traditional and contemporary. The second contains stories and poems, some with a hint of the supernatural to them.

A worthy collection and one with a commendably consolatory and thoughtful tone, paying tribute to those who lost their lives on both sides.

TMSA Young Trad Tour 2013

Various artists

TMSA13

A LOOK at past Traditional Music and Song Association Young Trad winners and nominees shows a knack for spotting future stars of the folk scene, including in their number names like Blazin’ Fiddles Anna Massie, Red Hot Chilli Pipers founder Stuart Cassells and Nairn fiddler Rua Macmillian.

So the musicians appearing on this year’s tour commemorative CD, among them 2012 winner Rona Wilkie from Mull, 2013 winner Paddy Callaghan from Glasgow and Inverness fiddle player Graham Mackenzie, automatically register as one to watch even before you hear the music.

The album might keep close to the TMSA remit — no Shooglenifty style "acid croft" here — but within that there is still room for variety with a couple of Gaelic songs from Wilkie and some Irish tunes brought to the table by Callaghan, who picked his up direct from Donegal, and Mackenzie, who learned from Irish sessions in Manchester.

With three of the seven musicians taking part fiddlers, the instrument is well represented on the album, which is produced by Black Isler Corrina Hewat, but there is also some catchy, if not quite groundbreaking, accordion from Callaghan and Paisley’s Grant McFarlane, piping from Scott Wood and Erskine and some atmospheric keyboard work from Andrew Dunlop.

Enjoyable collection though it is, this is still just a calling card. Having got their names in front of the public, it is now up to this year’s batch of finalists to go out and show us what they are really capable of.

The Paul McKenna Band

Elements

Greentrax CDTRAX373

OUT goes one Nairn fiddler, in the award-winning Rua Macmillan, in comes another in Mike Vass of Malinky, and fits in just fine. Witness the interplay with Sean Gray’s flutes and whistles on the Flying Through Flanders set for evidence.

The instrumentals are played with a confident urgency that also translates to the songs. The Paul McKenna Band still draws heavily on the Celtic songbook with offerings like Irish ballad Michael Hayes and Andy Mitchell’s Indiana, here stripped of some of the sentimentality that can make it mawkish in other hands. However, McKenna is also growing as a songwriter to the extent that there a slight disappointment that Elements contains only two self-penned songs, especially given the strength of album opener Lonely Man

 

coverBattlefield Band

Room Enough For All

Temple COMD2106

Funnily enough, there is a version of Indiana (under the title Farewell To Indiana) on the Batties Scots Trad Award-winning latest album, one as different in feel from the Paul McKenna Band version as you might expect from one of the most established brands in Scottish traditional music. Battlefield Band said goodbye to last remaining founder-member Alan Reid some years back, but Battlefield Band has always had something of a revolving door policy which has seen some of the biggest names of Scottish folk pass through its ranks, among them Karine Polwart, John McCusker, the late Davy Steele and piping legend Iain MacDonald to name just a few.

So many different members, including a fair number of non-Scots, inevitably means the band is an ever changing beast, though first class fiddle-playing and piping and strong songs have been pleasantly consistent. The band’s current incarnation may be more international than most with American Mike Katz, the band’s longest serving member, on pipes and Irishman Sean O’Donnell on vocals and guitars, but the heart is in the Highlands thanks to gifted multi-instrumentalists Alasdair White from the Isle of Lewis and Ewen Henderson from Lochaber.

The current band might be missing the songwriting power of a Reid, Polwart or Brian McNeill, but compensate with Henderson adding Gaelic songs to the band repertoire and a jolly setting of the Louis MacNeice poem Bagpipe Music that still manages to complement the serious message about the loss of tradition underneath MacNeice’s apparently nonsense verse. As always, though, the instrumentals are a treat and the interplay of White’s fiddle with the joint pipes of Katz and Henderson are a delight. Now approaching their 45th anniversary, the Batties are in strong form and I for one would never rule out a version of the band celebrating its centenary in 2069.

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