Emily Smith Band
The OneTouch Theatre
SHORT of the darker regions of heavy metal, few areas of music delve so deeply into death and disaster as traditional Scottish ballads.
This was the realisation that seemed to strike singer Emily Smith part way through the first show of her latest UK tour.
She had just finished My Darling Boy, a song written from the perspective of a young widow, and was seated at the grand piano about to begin Clerk Saunders, when she noticed one song about death was about to be followed by a murder ballad.
"I think the set list might need some attention," she suggested.
Yet even with the grim subject matter, Smith’s Inverness show was very far from an unrelenting evening of doom and gloom.
In Smith’s hands, even death ballads leave a warm glow. There was some truth to her statement later in the show that Twa Sisters — a tale of fatal sibling rivalry resulting in a nasty comeuppance involving boiling lead — was "the cheeriest murder ballad I know."
The edge of the lyrics’ grim morality lessons might be dulled, but Smith’s pure voice is naturally uplifting, as is the on-stage banter with her backing band of multi-instrumentalists New Zealander Jamie McClennan — Smith’s other half — and the Highlands’ own Matheu Watson.
Left to their own devices while Smith went to check on her and McClennan’s 10-month old baby, the two blokes delivered some lively instrumentals starting with Watson’s tune Ceit and Eilidh’s Hornpoop — the kind of title you get if you let six-year old twins name your tunes apparently.
We were even treated to a little Kiwi boogie as he and Matheu traded guitar licks, not so much duelling instrunments, but ones perfectly complementing each other.
The set drew heavily on Smith’s fine new album Echoes, which sees the Dumfries and Galloway singer renewing her love of traditional song and other favourites, including Archie Fisher’s elegy for the fishing industry, The Final Trawl, which allowed for some low key audience participation.
Yet there were hints that Smith could enjoy a successful career away from the traditional, even if the evening’s programme did not find much room for her original songs.
Sitting at the piano for a solo performance of Richard Thompson’s Waltzing’s For Dreamers, a song well suited to Smith’s clear voice and empathy with the lyrics was a quietly beautiful highlight, showing her as an accomplished performer of more contemporary material.
Fittingly for her first tour as a young mother, it ended with a lullaby, Bill Caddick’s Tchaikovsky derived John O’Dreams, a soothing note to send the audience home on, despite all that earlier bloodshed.