SIOBHAN MILLER – Mercury (Songprint Recordings SPR002CD)

MercuryTo be brutally honest, if this were Siobhan Miller’s first album and I was listening cold I probably wouldn’t have got past the first three tracks. I loved Strata – it was the perfect blend of new and old, of traditional songs and covers – but Mercury is pop music, well made and sophisticated, true, but pop music nevertheless. All the songs are originals, some written with Euan Burton, Louis Abbott and Kris Drever, performed with a fashionably modern band, embellished with violins and brass.

I’ll temper my criticism a little. The third track, ‘Strandline’ attracted my attention and the fourth, ‘The Western Edge’ is excellent. I hoped, at that point, that Siobhan had turned her back on foolish notions but, sadly, I was disappointed. A major problem is the absence of lyrics: they are not printed on the cover and, although we’re promised them on Siobhan’s website they are nowhere to be found. With everything that is going on around her musically, they are essential. Even the star guests like Eddi Reader and Kris Drever are lost in the wall of sound that Burton, Abbott and Iain Hutchinson generate.

The title track, which opens the album, actually sounds rather interesting on subsequent listenings – I can make out something about picket lines and throwing stones but it’s lost. The second track, ‘Sorrow When The Day Is Done’, is a nicely upbeat song but the combination of Abbott’s drums and John Lowrie’s piano overwhelms it. It’s rather like an episode of Masterchef – I can appreciate the skill and see the ideas going into the dish but there are far too many of them and the finished article is unpalatable.

I am so disappointed with Mercury. Come back to us, Siobhan, please.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.siobhanmiller.com

‘Mercury’ – lyric video:

Hannah Rarity announces debut album

Hannah Rarity
Photograph by Elly Lucas

Hannah Rarity – BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2018 – releases her much anticipated debut album Neath The Gloaming Star on 2nd September. This new release will be launched with a number of high-profile appearances (BBC Proms In The Park) and UK tour dates in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen amongst others.

Following her acclaimed 2016 EP, Beginnings, (“Beautifully engaging vocals, thoughtful interpretations of traditional songs and some highly promising song-writing…Hers is definitely a name to watch.” fRoots Magazine), Neath The Gloaming Star features eleven songs, carefully selected by Rarity, which showcase her powerful vocals and fresh interpretations of songs from the folk genre she whole-heartedly embraces. Her vocal performance is supported by a stellar line-up of Scottish musicians, including Innes White (Karen Matheson, John McCusker), John Lowrie (Blue Rose Code, Adam Holmes & The Embers) and Euan Burton (Kris Drever, Siobhan Miller).

Rarity’s musical career to date has earned her a nomination for Scots Singer of the Year 2017 at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, seen her feature as ‘One to Watch in 2018’ in The Scotsman and front Irish-American band Cherish the Ladies. This first full-length work is a culmination of her musical journey and experience thus far, establishing Rarity as a voice in her own right, whilst paying homage to both source – Jeannie Robertson – and revival singers, including Rod Paterson, Fiona Hunter and Anne Neilson, from whom songs have been passed.

Produced by acclaimed musician and producer Euan Burton, the album has a bright and modern sound whilst remaining true to the folk tradition it is inspired by. “Neath the Gloaming Star” features a carefully balanced mix of beloved traditional songs, self-penned tracks and soulful covers of some of Scotland’s best-loved songwriters of the folk-revival – two late greats are celebrated in re-workings of Andy M. Stewart’s ‘Where Are You (Tonight I Wonder?)’, and ‘Rose O’ Summerlee’ by Davy Steele, which features folk legend Phil Cunningham. Meanwhile more contemporary songs – ‘Wander Through This Land’ and ‘Wasting Time’ – further develop the emotive themes of loss, love, hardship and longing that run throughout the album.

Artist’s website: www.hannahrarity.com

‘Land O’ The Leal’ – live:

JAMES DUNCAN MACKENZIE – Sròmos (own label JMMCD002)

SròmosJames Duncan Mackenzie is, as you know, piper and flautist with Breabach, one of the finest of the young Scottish bands. James is from the Isle of Lewis and there is a big story behind Sròmos, his second solo album: the history of the island over the last two centuries, its landscape, myths and characters. It’s a completely instrumental album, all self-composed with a core band of producer John Lowrie, Alan Nairn, Innes White and James Lindsay and two guest fiddlers; Alasdair White and Jack Smedley. James provides brief but very informative notes that make me want to seek out a book on the history of Lewis.

The opening title track starts with echoey notes on Lowrie’s Rhodes piano and you might think that you’re in for something very modern but James’ flute immediately takes up a very traditional sounding tune. The music builds almost like a ceilidh band before the tune fades back to the Rhodes and leads gently into the linked piece, ‘The Lazy Beds Of Rias’. Sròmos was a settlement cleared in the 19th century to make way for deer. It’s a common story across the Highlands, I know, but it’s made more poignant by the fact that the ruins can still be seen. Lazy beds are are version of ridge and furrow cultivation and their remains can be seen too. And now this is beginning to sound like a history lesson.

James’ pipes are first heard in the middle of ‘The Garron/The Plough On The Cross-Beam’ but he returns to the flute for the absolutely delightful ‘Stornoway Waltz’ with the melody played in double time over a steady but unobtrusive dance beat. ‘Land Raiders’ is another great story opening with flute over White’s acoustic guitar. The intensity builds as the pipes take over for the angry second and third sections.’Walk Home’ concerns the wreck of a troop-ship in 1919 while the up-tempo ‘Langavat’ describes two notable features of the Lewis landscape and there’s more history to take us the close.

Sròmos is an absolutely delightful album; a soundtrack for a visit to the Isle of Lewis should you ever get to cross the Minch.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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

James and his band live:

Breabach piper James Duncan Mackenzie announces new solo album

James Duncan Mackenzie

Breabach piper and flautist, James Duncan Mackenzie, from the Isle of Lewis, launches his second solo album, Sròmos, a collection of newly composed melodies.

The album is named after an abandoned settlement on the banks of Loch Seaforth on Lewis, which was one of many townships cleared in the 19th century to prioritise land for sheep farming and deer forest. Sròmos consists entirely of self-penned melodies, led by wooden flutes and Highland pipes, with accompaniment from an array of acoustic and electric instruments.

James, who is a member of award-winning folk group, Breabach, is a leading exponent of the highland bagpipe and wooden flute in Scotland and as a tune writer, although his compositions are firmly rooted within the traditional idiom, they are equally at home with modern backing.

Mackenzie invited some of Scotland’s finest traditional and jazz musicians to join him on this album and you can expect James’ typical melodic flair and instrumental prowess coupled with grooves, electric instrumentation and multi-layered textures.

Mackenzie and his band will give their debut performance of Sròmos at Celtic Connections Festival on the 26th January at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Also on the bill is the Finlay Macdonald Band and Estonia’s Torupilli Jussi Trio.

Mackenzie said: “I’m delighted to be releasing my second solo album, Sròmos, five years after my debut album. I’ve been writing tunes for this album over the last couple of years and have gained inspiration from the landscape and history of Sròmos; a place that was once a thriving community of people who worked and lived off the land.

“I worked closely alongside co-producer John Lowrie (Adam Holmes and the Embers/Blue Rose Code) and together we’ve drawn on a wide range of influences and created a sound that I’m extremely proud of. It was a pleasure to be joined in the studio by some great friends and fantastic musicians who were invaluable in helping me bring my tunes to life.”

Tickets for the Celtic Connections concert are available from the Box Office and https://www.celticconnections.com.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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: http://www.jamesduncanmackenzie.com/

BLUE ROSE CODE – The Water Of Leith (Navigator NAVIGATOR103)

Water Of LeithBlue Rose Code, aka Ross Wilson, has a deservedly growing reputation, with luminaries as diverse as Edith Bowman, Ewan McGregor and Ian Rankin among his fans. Time Out described the music as “Imagine John Martyn meeting a young Van Morrison and being shipwrecked with bundle of Chet Baker records.” The Water Of Leith, the new album, is released on October 27th.

Sometimes in the clatter and busyness of modern life we miss out on more sophisticated gems which don’t leap out and hit us in the face. I’ve just spent a week in rural France, mostly surrounded by stillness but also with CDs to review. And with time and quietude to really hear, I discovered The Water Of Leith to be one of those sophisticated gems.

Wilson has said, “I’m passionate about that fusion of folk and jazz and where it intersects with songwriting”. He has returned to his roots in Scotland and the album has award winning singers (Julie Fowlis, Kathleen MacInnes) and jazz musicians (Konrad Wisznewski, Seonaid Aitken, John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay) creating the sound. The Water Of Leith strolls easily across those borders and intersections, melding Scottish music and jazz as stunningly as Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill have been finding new power and beauty in Irish music by similarly combining different traditions.

The first three tracks are more broadly accessible and likely to get the greater radio play on non-specialist programmes. The remaining nine tracks, though, take you somewhere different, somewhere unique, those borders and intersections between jazz and folk – like that world you capture occasionally in the very early morning where the dawn mixes with the rising mist and you see and hear with a clarity that will be gone in twenty minutes. There are songs where the interplay of vocal and instrument create the mood (‘Passing Places’, ‘Sandaig’) and there are others where the interplay is between instruments (notably the two extended tracks ‘The Water’ and ‘To The Shore’ – the two tracks combining into seventeen minutes of sheer delight if you can find a quiet place to listen).

Blue Rose Code are touring in November to coincide with the release of the new album, dates to be found on their website (see below). In the meantime have a listen, a proper listen, to ‘Scotland Yet’ which was recorded earlier this year in Glasgow – and feel the hairs tingle on your neck.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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://bluerosecode.com / https://bluerosecode.com/live

‘Scotland Yet’ live:

Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) announces new album

Blue Rose Code

Blue Rose Code, aka acclaimed singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, releases The Water Of Leith, his first album for Navigator Records on October 27 on CD, download and album stream.

A nomad both geographically and musically, Ross writes from the heart eschewing any specific genre and the twelve new songs on The Water Of Leith, addressing themes of love, loss, travel, home, accepting the past and embracing the future, are painted with colours of folk, jazz, soul and pop; an eclecticism that has become a hallmark of Blue Rose Code and has seen him compared to John Martyn, Van Morrison and Tom Waits.

Underlining the sense of movement and place in Ross’s work and The Water Of Leith is rooted in his return to his Scottish homeland. There, he reconnected with the stellar musicians who were to become an integral part of the new album’s sound: multi award-winning singer Julie Fowlis, celebrated Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, BBC Folk Award Winner, Ross Ainslie, 2017’s Scottish Jazz Awards’ instrumentalist of the year Konrad Wiszniewski, leading violinist Seonaid Aitken and three of Scotland’s finest jazz musicians; John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay, to name just some of the contributors. Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman features on the opening track. Ross co-produced the album with Angus Lyon.

Blue Rose Code will tour extensively around the release of The Water Of Leith, including concerts at Edinburgh Queen’s Hall on November 3, London Bush Hall on November 14, Perth Concert Hall on November 20 and two nights at Harbour Arts in Irvine on November 24 and 25.

In the space of a few short years and the release of well-received albums North Ten, The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, and And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing, Blue Rose Code has built a growing reputation as a powerful writer and performer, gaining extensive radio play and the praise of key broadcasters including Edith Bowman, Mary Ann Kennedy, Bob Harris and also actor Ewan McGregor who made a cameo appearance on And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing after commenting: “My uncle Denis Lawson (star of Local Hero) gave me a copy of The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, it’s beautiful and I can’t stop listening to it.” Author Ian Rankin is also a fan and has written insightful sleeve notes for the new album.  The Water Of Leith marks another step forward for Ross: his first record in recovery following a personal history overcoming alcoholism and addiction.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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: http://www.bluerosecode.com/

‘Grateful’ – live at RTE: