Shetland singer-songwriter (and sailor) Barry Nisbet’s little box of delights, A Bright Ray Of Sunshine finally reaches the top of the unruly stack by the CD player. Although released in March, this absolute treasure chest of ten songs fully deserves to receive the widest recognition.
Some expected themes – a strong sense of place, history, nature, the sea, wanderlust – feature here, but it’s very much contemporary, aware of the modern world. It’s also warm and compassionate, with Nisbet’s gentle burr adding emphasis to his thoughtful lyrics, whether about Australia’s ‘Desert Wind’ or a love letter to his home, ‘Come In The Summer Time’.
Flavours of country/Americana can be heard in Nisbet’s guitar playing, such as the restlessness of ‘Borderland’, and the gentle tumbling guitar of ‘Comfortless Cove’ where it’s meets unmistakeable Scottishness in both melody and wistful whistle.
One of two instrumental tracks, ‘Brydon & Anona’s Wedding Waltz’ is tender, evolving and building with each turn of the phrase. The second is a 2-tune set: tensely twisting fiddle and choppily strummed guitar in ‘Imperial Jig’ bridging into ‘Night Trip To London’. With its folk-rock intro, this tune quickly develops into a jazzy, discordant distillation of relentless bustle, hum and traffic noise – a fierce partner to Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’.
Standout track, ‘Train To Anywhere’ might be the antecedent to Lau’s Ghosts in theme and sentiment. It is every bit as movingly powerful, with a melancholy harmonium underscoring the reluctant refugee’s core dilemma, “If I had the choice I would not knock upon your door, but my children are afraid”. A beautiful song, all the sadder for needing to be said at all.
The traditional-style ‘Hunger’s Daughter’, a haunting tale of love and starvation, has Nisbet’s vigorous fiddle playing reveal the frantic desperation left understated by the lyrics. Similarly, telling ‘Da Ballad O Da Jessie’ – the true tragedy of the sinking of the Shetland fishing fleet – in Scots, lends an emotional immediacy and rawness.
Final track, the lovely, ‘Within Sadness’ characterises Nisbet’s expressiveness in a reflective moment, “within sadness, a bright ray of sunshine”. There’s a directness, a truthfulness in this delightful collection that feels very welcome just now. Barry Nisbet will be going straight to the top of the CD pile next time, and no messing.
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‘Borderland’ – live: