SOPHIE RAMSAY – The Seas Between Us (own label SRAM003)

The Seas Between UsThe collection of Scots and Gaelic songs that form The Seas Between Us are largely taken from Burns (either by attribution or orgin), together with Hector Macneil’s ‘My Love’s In Germanie’ and a handful of traditional airs. From the opener, ’Ae Fond Kiss’, we are on well-trodden and familiar ground. However, whether in Gaelic or English, each song has been given thoughtful re-interpretation here. Even the over-familiarity of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has been carefully considered, rephrasing the lines to impart the meaning of those words so often bellowed semi-coherently at midnight, through a fug of alcohol.

Musically, the traditional has been supplemented by open, spacious arrangements with subtle electronic effects, that are quite deliciously and decidedly of the modern age. Occasionally reminiscent of some of Martin Green’s more recent work, here are ghostly plinking pianos, haunting horns and a fluttering flute. But – as if all that alliteration wasn’t tiring enough – there’s the over-use of echo to contend with. On individual tracks it works well enough, in particular on the layered vocals of ‘The Burning Of Auchindoun’ but, over the course of an entire album it starts to become a distraction. In contrast, however, the sudden absence of vocal reverb on ‘My Love’s In Germanie’, plus some disturbing tapping noises, contrives to create quite an effective airless and claustrophobic atmosphere.

A great deal of musical imagination has clearly been brought to bear in the production of this album. A delicate piano line in ‘By Yon Castle Wa’’ turns tensely choppy, ‘The Lea Rig’ features slow, deep, dragging strings, and ‘Bidh Clann Ulaidh’ subtle pipes propel the rhythm. ‘Bothan Àirigh Am Bràighe Raithneach’ (the album booklet helpfully provides translations of the Gaelic lyrics) features an array of eerie hee-haws, like a gently snoring donkey, while elsewhere notably on ‘The Dowie Dens Of Yarrow’, Findlay Napier lends vocal support to Sophie Ramsay’s gentle, breathy, fragile voice.

Overall, the album has a rather subdued and reflective feel. There’s a consistency of mood, perhaps at the expense of creating richer contrasts of emotional light and shade. However, it’s not at all a brash or showy album, simply one that wants to give the songs enough space to speak for themselves.
Su O’Brien

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‘By Yon Castle Wa”: