Atlantic Union is a long-established acoustic trio from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Their third CD Homeward features a new thematic approach as well as a change of personnel since their last album, 2004’s The Whole Dance. With the departure of Andrew Lang and the arrival of Jane Ogilvie, Sally Goddard is the only member of the band remaining from its original 1997 incarnation. However, Sally’s vocals have lost none of their power and purity, and the newer faces maintain Atlantic Union’s tradition of instrumental versatility. There’s something of a shift in focus on the material, too: there’s more emphasis on original songs, and the instrumentals are airs rather than dance tunes.
- The theme of ‘the pull towards home’ is set from the beginning by Sally Goddard’s ‘Two Coves And A Bay’. This song about the part of Newfoundland where she’s lived for the past 30 years has an irresistible, almost Irish lilt, though Sally’s roots are actually in England. Her guitar and voice are complemented by Jane Ogilvie’s harp and Dan Rubin’s octave mandolin, dulcimer, viola and string bass.
- The ‘Loch Tay Boat Song’ is a beautiful tune, beautifully sung by Sally with harp accompaniment from Jane. based on one collected in 1870 and published in Songs Of The North, edited by Sir Harold Boulton, who is credited as writing the words.
- ‘She’s Like The Swallow’ is a Newfoundland folk song, played here without a vocal part by Jane and Dan on harp and violin respectively. The sleeve notes describe this as “an exquisite melody” and I completely agree.
- Dan Rubin’s ‘A Clear And Ancient Harmony’ is loosely based on Thoreau’s poem Inspiration, with a cheerful melody and Dan’s vocal and guitar augmented by Sally’s harmony and Jane’s accordion and recorder.
- ‘Hush, Hush’ (also known as ‘Smile In Your Sleep’) is Jim McLean’s haunting song about the Highland Clearances, set to a pipe tune version of ‘Mist Covered Mountains Of Home’. Jane’s gentle vocals are augmented by her own harp and accordion and Dan’s octave mandolin and violin to good effect.
- Otto Kelland’s ‘Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s’ has been described as “the unofficial anthem of Labrador and Newfoundland” and describes the emotions of a homesick sailor longing to return to small boat fishing off Newfoundland. A simple accompaniment by Dan on guitar and Jane on accordion suit Sally’s accomplished vocals to perfection. One of my favourite tracks.
- ‘Waltz Around The Cape’ was written by Newfoundland songwriter Jim Payne, to a sprightly waltz rhythm carried by the guitar, bouzouki, bass and accordion accompaniment.
- Dan’s song ‘The Singing Stone’ is loosely based on the story of Jumping Mouse as told by Hyemeyohsts Storm in Seven Arrows. Dan takes lead vocals and plays guitar, bouzouki and string bass, with additional vocals from Jane and Sandy MacDonald. Curiously, it has an almost pop-y feel, a bit like a folk-rock interpretation of a forgotten Buddy Holly song. Which is by no means a bad thing: at any rate, it’s definitely growing on me.
- ‘Carolan’s Dream’, sometimes known as ‘Molly McAlpin’ was written by William Connellan, though O’Carolan is said to have played it often and to have preferred it to any piece of his own. It is played here, appropriately, as a solo harp piece by Jane, and a lovely piece it is too. I’m not the first person to note that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ may owe something to this tune, but then Led Zeppelin did, in their more derivative moments, borrow some excellent material.
- ‘Roads Go Ever On’ is another of Dan Rubin’s songs, based on Bilbo’s song from The Hobbit. Dan takes vocal and guitar, while Jane adds harp and accordion.
- Bob Pegg’s ‘A Dram For The Singer’ was written about a Scottish fishing community, but sounds just as appropriate for Newfoundland. Another favourite track, beautifully sung by a double-tracked Sally and accompanied by Dan on guitar, bouzouki and string bass, and by Jane on accordion. Actually, I don’t think it would be hated here in Cornwall, either. I may have to work on that…
- ‘Homeward Bound’ is not Paul Simon’s dolorous song about life on the road , but a piece by Marta Keen Thompson well known in choral circles, especially as arranged for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by Mack Wilberg, and deservedly so. Atlantic Union’s version is, unsurprising, less ambitiously arranged: just Sally’s voice, Jane’s harp and accordion, and Dan’s octave mandolin. But it works beautifully, and makes a thoughtful and satisfying end to the CD.
While a typical Atlantic Union set draws on a wide range of material from both sides of the Atlantic, in this case Canada is such a strong presence as to be almost a fourth member of the band. The result is an atmospheric, somewhat nostalgic set that manages to be both emotionally charged and uplifting. I’m looking forward to hearing where they take us next.
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