Calum Alex Macmillan releases second solo album

Calum Alex Macmillan

The latest in a venerable family line of Gaelic singers and bards, Calum Alex Macmillan ranks squarely at the forefront of his culture’s contemporary renaissance. With his second solo album Till (a long-awaited successor to 2005’s highly-praised Taladh Nan Cuantan), the Isle of Lewis native and ex-Dàimh vocalist resoundingly reaffirms that status, in material retracing his deepest traditional roots, while simultaneously embracing the present.

Till means ‘return’ in Gaelic, denoting the frequent visits back to his family home in Point, a tradition-rich peninsula off Lewis’s east coast, during which Macmillan – currently based in Inverness – gradually gathered songs and tunes for the album. His primary source was numerous kitchen-table sessions with his father, Harris Tweed weaver John “Seonaidh Beag” Macmillan, himself a celebrated singer, and co-founder of pioneering Gaelic group The Lochies.

“Besides sharing his own songs,” Calum Alex explains, “Dad played me loads of his reel-to-reel tapes from years ago, of other folk singing, old BBC programmes and suchlike. I also discovered that my great-auntie, in the next village, had tapes that her late auntie had made, of singers she knew in the area. I have a lot of singers going back on both sides of my family, and there were a good many others, really quite widely-known singers, living nearby when I was growing up, who sang songs by local bards – some of them written by my ancestors. The ones on the album have so many interconnections for me: with my childhood, my family’s history, with that particular place and that community.”

The album title also resonates aptly in English, with its dual sense of cultivation – tilling the land – and of looking forward (until), reflecting both Macmillan’s heartfelt fealty to centuries-old tradition, and his skill at bringing it to timeless yet modern-day life. Produced by Donald Shaw – of Capercaillie/Celtic Connections fame – Till’s sensitively spacious, freshly imaginative arrangements feature such fellow contemporary folk luminaries as Julie Fowlis, Greg Lawson (GRIT), Ross Martin (Dàimh), James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), James D. Mackenzie (Breabach) and Manus Lunny (Capercaillie).

As alluded to above, Macmillan has been singing nigh-on since he could talk, developing his talents and repertoire at both local ceilidhs and the annual Mòd network of competitive Gaelic festivals. Winner of the coveted National Mòd Gold Medal at only 18 – he triumphed again in the Traditional contest two years later. His parallel prowess on the bagpipes (as featured in Till’s two instrumental sets), resonates clearly through his vocal phrasing and ornamentation, while a potent expressive blend of gravitas and passion, buoyancy and weight, also reveals the uniquely elemental influence of Gaelic psalm-singing, a tradition still widespread during his childhood. Following Taladh Nan Cuantan’s release, Macmillan’s six years with award-winning Highland band Dàimh further honed this exquisitely distinctive artistry, not least in his masterly handling of accompaniment – artistry that now, on Till, attains marvellously mature, transcendently eloquent fruition.

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Calum Alex Macmillan – Till link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.calumalexmacmillan.co.uk   

Kaela Rowan announces second solo album

Kaela Rowan

Kaela Rowan’s second album returns to her roots in the Scottish Highlands, to the songs she learned as a young session singer, and to the sounds of those who inspired her. The Fruited Thorn contains 11 traditional ballads, ancient and modern, coalescing into a work of raw and powerful beauty.

Kaela co-produced the album with James Mackintosh, best known as the innovative percussionist driving the irresistible grooves behind Acid Croft pioneers Shooglenifty and Transatlantic Sessions. And together with third band member Ewan MacPherson (Shooglenifty, Salt House), they have amassed a dream team of guest musicians, all carefully chosen for their unique musical voice.

 “This album is really a homage to all the amazing ballads and ballad singers past and present. Those great singers who bring songs to life and helped awaken the young singer in me. No matter how often I sing these songs, they move me with their universal and timeless beauty. Sheila Stewart said, ‘You search and you find your soul and you put that into the singing’ – I think that is what makes a good storyteller.

“Part of the story involves several journeys to Rajasthan. James Mackintosh and I were first invited to perform at Jodhpur Riff in 2012 and have been back very year since. Two of the songs ( Eilean Fhianain and Grioghal Cridhe) are the result of out collaborations with the amazing Rajasthani singer Dayam Khan Manganiyar.

“In every one of these ballads, there is a mesmerising age-old story, as relevant today as the day it was written. These songs connect us to those before us and, in some moments, it’s as though time itself doesn’t exist.

“I am indebted to the uniquely talented instrumentalists who were so generous with their contributions to the album, not least my band mates James Mackintosh and Ewan MacPherson”. Kaela Rowan

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: https://kaelarowan.bandcamp.com/

‘Now Westlin Winds’ with James Mackintosh:

John McCusker – new album

John McCusker

In celebration of his 25th Anniversary as a professional musician, John McCusker will release Hello, Goodbye on April 29th 2016 and tour the UK in April and May. A wonderfully evocative set of compositions, Hello, Goodbye is John’s first solo album in thirteen years, the first on his new record label Under One Sky Records and the first recorded in his state of the art studio, built over the last 2 years in a bothy dating from 1779, which neighbours his Scottish Borders home. Designed by legendary record producer and studio designer Calum Malcolm, the new studio is a winning combination of the traditional and the new, much like John’s music itself!

Hello, Goodbye was composed while John was on a world tour with Mark Knopfler. The core musical group for the album is an all-star cast of handpicked musicians with whom John has been fortunate to work over the past 25 years: James Mackintosh, Drums/Percussion (Shooglenifty, The Blue Nile, James); Ewen Vernal, Bass (Deacon Blue, Capercaille); Ian Carr, Guitar (Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Swap); Michael McGoldrick, Whistle (Mark Knopfler, Capercaille, Sharon Shannon); Andy Cutting, Melodeon  (The Who, June Tabor); Tim O’Brien (Grammy Award Winning US bluegrass star); Phil Cunningham MBE, Accordion (Bonnie Raitt, Nicola Benedetti) and acclaimed Irish singer Heidi Talbot. Continue reading John McCusker – new album

MAÍRÍ MACINNES – Gràs (Puffin Recordings PUFFIN01CD)

MAÍRÍ MACINNESI’m fortunate in that I get to hear albums of Gaelic song that I wouldn’t otherwise know about – it’s not a major topic of conversation here in Hampshire – but rarely one as splendidly varied as Gràs, or Grace to render its title into Béarla.

This is an album that has everything from puirt à beul with silly titles like ‘Big Wellies On My Little Feet’ through love songs, a waulking song and a very old Runrig cover (‘Tillidh Mi’) to the beautiful setting of an old Gaelic prayer that is the title track. Maírí is joined on vocals by Karen Matheson and Paul McCallum and the trio of Hamish Napier, Aaron Jones and James Mackintosh. The traditional is mostly unaccompanied and the band does enough to update it without overwhelming the essential spirit. A very special track is ‘Meórachadh’ which begins with an archive recording of Maírí’s great uncle, Angus John MacMillan, before Maírí and the band join in to swell and enhance the sound. I find it hard to think of 1972 as “archive” but it is over forty years old!

Gràs is a beautiful, spiritual album leavened with fun songs like ‘Fealla Dhà’ to ensure you don’t drift off completely into a contented reverie. It really is splendid.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to download a copy of the track or just listen to snippet of it then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

A taster of the album launch at Celtic Connections 2015:

ROSS AINSLIE: new album – WIDE OPEN

Ross AinslieReleased on Great White Records GWR001CD

Distribution by Proper Music Distribution

Release date: 10th March, 2014

Nominated as “Musician of the Year” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, 2013 and nominated, with Jarlath Henderson, in the “Best Duo” category for this year’s Folk Awards.

Ross is one half of the stellar duo, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson, as well as one of the most sought after musicians in the Scottish music scene today.

Performing with Salsa Celtica, Dougie Maclean and the Treacherous Orchestra, Ross has also appeared and collaborated with Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu, Capercaillie, Mike McGoldrick, Flook and many more.

Wide Open is a snap shot of Ross’s influences and is a diverse collection of musical styles that have inspired him over the years.

The nine tracks feature his talents as master piper and whistle player as well as his skills on cittern and mandolin. Ross is joined by a wonderful line up of musicians: Ali Hutton on guitar, Duncan Lyall on bass, James Mackintosh on drums, Innes Watson on fiddle, John Somerville on accordion, Angus Lyon on keys and Gyan Singh on tabla.

From the Breton influenced ‘Clans’  to the energetic playing on  ‘Problem’ , the album illustrates a fusion of styles that have inspired Ross throughout his musical career. ‘Wood Suite’ is an expression of his musical journeys and fuses the instruments of cittern, whistles, accordion, bass, drums and tabla in an evocative and creative arrangement that takes creative input from his collaborations, in India, to his life in Scotland.

Dedicated to his teacher and mentor the late Gordon Duncan, Wide Open is a musical gathering of his experiences in a refreshing collection of tunes that debuts his creativity as a solo artist.

Artist’s website: http://www.rossainslie.com/

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us. Ordering through folking.com / folking.org helps us to earn a few pennies to contribute to the sites running costs.

Capercaillie’s 30th anniversary album At the Heart of It All

Capercaillie - At the Heart of It AllAt the Heart of It All, Capercaillie’s brand-new 30th anniversary album, revisits and reinvigorates songs sourced from a wealth of centuries old Hebridean folk songs. The material has been enriched further by compelling contemporary arrangements, with contributions from many special guests who represent the pinnacle of today’s flourishing Scottish music scene.

“We’d never really done much in the way of collaboration on previous albums, but this time it seemed like a nice way to go,” says band member Donald Shaw, “We didn’t want Capercaillie’s 30th anniversary being all about us and our record, but more about celebrating how Scottish and Gaelic music as a whole has expanded and progressed in that time with so many younger musicians coming through.” Continue reading Capercaillie’s 30th anniversary album At the Heart of It All