DÀIMH – The Rough Bounds (Goat Island Music, GIMCD005)

The Rough BoundsTwenty years to the day since their first gig, Dàimh release their seventh album, The Rough Bounds. While the title might aptly describe the burly chap gracing the cover, it actually relates to the area around West Lochaber where the band originates, “Na Garbh Chrìochan” in Gaelic.

Dàimh (meaning “kinship”) are now a six-piece, with the addition of fiddler Alasdair White to complement Gabe McVarish. The album also features Duncan Lyall (double bass), Martin O’Neill (bodhran) alongside ex-band member Calum Alex MaxMillan, Ewen Henderson and Kathleen MacInnes (backing vocals).

A lively puirt à beul trio (about chickens, Owen’s boat and picking cockles), ‘‘S Trusaidh mi na Coilleagan’ fairly bubbles along like a clear mountain stream. Followed up by ‘12th Of June’, a strong, driving pipe-led set of jigs, these two tracks make an immediately engaging opening to the album.

Sorrowful òran, ‘Tha Fadachd orm Fhìn’ features a delicate metallic sheen of percussion courtesy of guest artist Signy Jakobsdottir, well-partnered with Ellen MacDonald’s expressive vocal. MacDonald’s crystal clear voice is edged with a subtle smokiness and, aside from the liveliness of puirt à beul, the songs of love, loss and longing featured here allow her melancholy lyricism to the fore. (A witty set of icons printed alongside the song titles provides helpful clues about the subject matter: those accompanying ‘Bodach Innse Chrò’ are particularly brilliant).

The tunes mix the band’s arrangements of traditional material with their original compositions, all of which sit together extremely comfortably. New and old interweave unobtrusively. A pair of Donald MacLeod reels, an homage to one of the band’s favourite composers, makes for an interesting diversion. Here, beaty guitar and assertive fiddle provide the framework for a deftly twisting, turning interplay of pipes and whistles.

Arrangements are rich but not overloaded, with the band’s skilful, energetic playing breathing fresh vitality into the tunes. The album culminates with a haunting and lamenting instrumental version of the murderous, ‘Chì mi’n Toman’, with its eerie, lingering final pipe notes.

The Rough Bounds makes a most welcome and assured addition to the Scottish traditional music canon. From here, Dàimh are looking strong and confident as they embark on their next twenty years.
Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.daimh.net

‘Dhannsamaid Le Ailean’ – live:

Dàimh announce new album

Dàimh

Translated from the Gaelic Na Garbh Chrìochan, the Rough Bounds is the area of West Lochaber where Dàimh were formed 20 years ago. Still based in the area, the band’s roots remain firmly tied to the region by the enduring connections of the three remaining founding members.

Historically regarded as an unruly and inaccessible Jacobite stronghold from which Bonnie Prince Charlie both launched his campaign and subsequently fled from in defeat six months later; the landscape of the Rough Bounds is reflected in the breath-taking beauty of Ellen MacDonald’s vocals, the wild grandeur of Dàimh’s pipe and fiddle led instrumentals and the band’s ongoing mission to defend and promote the Gaelic culture.

The idea of crossing the paths of past and future is strongly represented. “Half of the tunes on the record are written by the band and the other half are traditional, the only exception being that of a set of melodies composed by piping legend, PM Donald MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. We wanted to pay tribute to one our favourite composers, but the set also serves as a stepping stone between the old tunes and our own contemporary pieces” explains piper Angus MacKenzie.

Bringing a mixture of seldom-heard songs passed down from family to better-known puirt à beul and ballads, Ellen MacDonald confidently takes command of the vocals and proves she is now a firmly established star in the gaelaxy. The songs cover all of the expected Dàimh themes; drinking, fighting, heartbreak and heading off to sea, never to be seen again.

For this, the band’s seventh album to date, their number swells to six with the addition of Alasdair White who joins Gabe McVarish on fiddle. “Fiddle is spelt with two ‘D’s because Dàimh deserves a double dose of fiddle action” declares Gabe. “Alasdair is just d’man for the job!”

Former Dàimh singer Calum Alex MacMillan makes a cameo appearance alongside Kathleen MacInnes and Ewen Henderson on backing vocals. The Rough Bounds also features guest appearances by instrumentalists Martin O’Neill (bodhran), Duncan Lyall (double bass) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion) and was engineered by Barry Reid.

The Rough Bounds is due for release on Goat Island Music on 27th May 2018; exactly 20 years to the day after their first ever gig. A coinciding launch tour includes 3 venues from their inaugural tour and also notches up the 27th and 28th Scottish Islands the band has performed on.

Artists’ website: https://www.daimh.net/

MAEVE MACKINNON – Strì (Own Label, MM003)

Launched this weekend as part of Celtic Connections 2018, comes Maeve Mackinnon’s third studio album, Strì (meaning “strive”). After a couple of years of touring with Stepcrew and others, Mackinnon returns to home turf with an album of songs with a distinctly female perspective.

Inspired by Mackinnon’s love of waulking songs, this collection bears all the hallmark strong rhythms of work songs, like opener ‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’ (“Row Lightly”) with its hypnotic rowing pace. There’s also an evident relish in playing with assonance and alliteration in the language.

The lyrics (in translation) form a brutal poetry. Often these little hunks of plain-spoken, stark phrases hang together with a dark twist involving betrayal, or a loss of love or life. But it’s as repeated, sung phrases that they come alive with their own musicality.

Knowing Gaelic may help comprehension, but it’s certainly not essential to appreciating the vocal skill and dexterity in pieces like ‘Puirt-a-Beul’ (“Mouth Music”) – a “hidden” track that runs on from ‘Moch An-Diugh A Rinn Mi Eirigh’ (“Early Today I Rose”). Then there’s the not-quite-rapping, tongue-twisting ‘Bodachan a’Ghàrraidh’ (“Little Old Man In The Garden”) with its loose, funky guitar undercarriage. (And this song even fades out, like some contemporary radio playlister).

What the Scots generally do seem to have is a sound grasp of how to respect and refresh their traditions with judicious use of the studio toolbox, and Strì is no exception. So, occasional processed vocals, industrial metallic sounds, scratchy electronics and even an almost club-like rhythmic regularity on can be found here, all of which help to keep these songs feeling right up to date.

Producer/arranger Duncan Lyall successfully marshalls an array of top musicians including Jarlath Henderson, Ali Hutton, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid and Kathleen MacInnes, amongst others, whilst keeping a firm hold on the balance of instrumentation and sympathetically fleshing out Mackinnon’s warm tones.

Most of the songs here may be from the Gaelic tradition, but Mackinnon does include one of her own compositions. Following a crackly announcement in Spanish, it’s quite startling to hear English lyrics again. ‘We’re Not Staying’ is a complex tale of flight and persecution, nicely told with an emphasis on the disruption of migration and the wistful sense of temporariness.

In short, Maeve Mackinnon has made, in Strì, an album that is a real pleasure to listen to, relishing in all its rhythmic twists and turns. She has taken traditional forms and given them a contemporary edge, and the women’s stories that she sings are just as relevant as they ever have been.

Su O’Brien

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Artist’s website: www.maevemackinnon.com

‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’:

Maeve Mackinnon – new album

Maeve Mackinnon

Contemporary Gaelic Singer Maeve Mackinnon releases her third studio album in February, 2018. Strì is a collection of songs in Gaelic and English, based on the themes of work, exile and struggle, from a woman’s perspective.

Strì means to strive or struggle in Gaelic. My original idea was to revisit the songs I love, particularly Gaelic Waulking songs. Waulking songs are work songs traditionally sung by women in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. They were hardy, tough women and they sang of battles, tragedies, breakups and romance. I realised midway through recording that nearly all the songs are from a female perspective, and the messages within them are so current today on many levels”.

The album is produced by multiple award-winning producer and bassist Duncan Lyall (producer of Scots Trad Music Awards’ Album of the Year 2015 for Treacherous Orchestra’s Grind along with many others!).

Strì features guest contributions from musical luminaries such as Kathleen MacInnes, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid, Ali Hutton, Duncan Lyall, and Jarlath Henderson alongside longtime collaborators Ross Martin and Brian McAlpine.

“The stories, melodies and rhythms convey so much. Whether you speak Gaelic or not, I think people can hear the power of feeling in these songs”.

Strì is launched on Sunday 4 February at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of  Celtic Connections 2018.

Artist’s website: https://www.maevemackinnon.com/

Claire Hastings announces debut album

Claire Hastings

Since winning the BBC Young Traditional Musician of theYear title in 2015, folk singer Claire Hastings’ debut album Between River And Railway has been hotly anticipated. The album features exciting arrangements of traditional folk songs alongside Claire’s self-penned material, including the stunning ‘The House at Rosehill’. This song features the album title in the lyrics, and is a reference to Claire’s childhood home near Dumfries. Songs are brought to life with band members Jenn Butterworth (guitar & vocals), Laura Wilkie (fiddle) and Andrew Waite (accordion) as well as guests Martin O’Neill (percussion) and Duncan Lyall (bass).

Recorded at Carrier Waves Studio (Glasgow) and produced by Ali Hutton (Treacherous Orchestra, Old Blind Dogs) one of Scotland’s foremost multi-instrumentalists, the album showcases Claire’s beautifully clear voice in the Scots and English languages.

The album includes Claire’s alternative melody to Robert Burns’ ‘The Posie’, which has been controversially deemed superior to the original. A lively rendition of ‘Let Ramensky Go’ also features, which Claire has performed twice with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at Proms in the Park and at BBC Music Day, where she also sang alongside Lulu, Jamie Cullum and Deacon Blue. ‘The Gretna Girls’ was written after a visit to the Devil’s Porridge Museum near Gretna, once the site of what during the First World War was the UK’s largest munitions factory.

Claire will be touring the album with her band in May and June this year following a solo tour of New Zealand in April.

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

‘The Posie’: