BEINN LEE – Deò (Beinn Lee BL21)

DeòBeinn Lee’s Deò is an album filled with Scottish folk music, suspended in their Hogmanay night celebration, with the always New Year’s visitor friendly offering of dark rye bread. Perhaps, that’s just the way true Gaelic music has always meant to be played – and or – baked.

The first tune, ‘Sunndachan’, begins with a wonderful (and startling!) voice field recording. It’s a lovely academic exercise, what with folk archival culture and all of that, but beyond any nod to a Robert Burns Appreciation Society, as my friend, Kilda Defnut, said of the neat introduction, “Braw! That’s just a really cool thing to do”. Then the band’s ensemble with guitar, pipes, accordion, and fiddle enters with a mild dance, until, (and oh my!) the full drum kit percussion shifts into irresistible pulse as the tune throttles into Scottish folk band overdrive (aka FBO). Of course, this is the ethos of Beinn Lee: The band glances at the past with that field recording and then launches into, what can only be called, brand new fire in the Hebrides, the band’s native west coast home.

A point of personal preference: While I enjoy a band’s rendition of well-worn traditional tunes like ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’, ‘The Gypsy Laddie’, or ‘Tae The Weavers Gin Ye Gang’, any original composition adds a vital voice to any recording; and ‘Anam Saor’ continues the ethos of the celebration of the Scottish tradition fused into a very modern and quite melodic song. Its passion certainly recalls the beauty of a low-gear Runrig tune. That’s a big complement. The same is true for the piano-graced ‘Tha Mise Dol’, with its pipe solo that touches the clouds that hover over the Highlands. And it’s a nice bi-lingual touch with the catchy ‘Sail With Me’, which oozes pop folk soul. And it conjures the fun of all-over-the place album, Alba Vinyl by Follow That Camel, issued long ago on the great Iona label.

‘Still On Standby’ is tough instrumental music that braves cold water waves.

‘Te Beheag’ is a lovely interlude instrumental with even more piano, percussion, accordion, and fiddle quick-step beauty. It’s a nice jaunty ride that retains the haggis-thanking patience ready to stop for sheep crossing any oft-trodden road.

In contrast, ‘A Dol Aig’ is a sharp-tongued instrumental with a determined piper attitude – an attitude that catches fire with yet more Hebridean fury.

Ditto for the lively flute pumped barn dance of ‘The Reel Boy Gordon’ that, with burning fiddle, finds yet another way to celebrate Robert Burns on “that happy night with Annie” in those “corn rigs, an’ barley rigs” that still, even after all these years, presents a worthy cause to raise a good pint of Traquair Jacobite ale, or in my native mid-western Wisconsin home, the Lake Louie Warped Speed Scottish ale that has been, thankfully, “smuggled out of the backwoods”.

There’s a bit of an oasis. First, ‘The Fall’ is a soaring folk song that (sort of) quietly explodes. And ‘You’re My Best Friend’ (not a Queen cover!) is an ultima-passionate (with a slight country vibe) singer-songwriter ode to true love. Then, ‘Dram By The Fire’ is a tranquil instrumental that recalls the sublime music of the brilliant band, Ossian – but then (and oh my, again), the tune morphs into a wonderous sword dance stomp. The same is true for the final tune, ‘Lose The Shoes’ which continues that piped pulse, with the band firing on all highland cylinders and it truly works as an encore to those of us who raised a Scottish ale to celebrate the simple joy of this music.

This album, Deò, indeed, asks and answers the rhetorical Robert Burns’ question, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot” with its endless waterwheel of tradition; and with equal certainty on any Hogmanay night, dark rye bread is baked with a recipe that will always rise, again, with very modern and very vital Scottish folk music, because that’s the way ancient Gaelic music has always meant to be played – and or (once again!) – baked, into the delights of a true Scottish porridge, a meal stuffed with really great, endlessly melodic, savoury, and always newly fired ritualistic folk music.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘Sunndachan’ – official video:

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