DOUGIE MACKENZIE WITH BRIAN MILLER – Along The Way   (Greentrax CDTRAX403)

Along The WayDougie Mackenzie began his musical life singing Gaelic songs but later turned his attention to the Scots ballad tradition. The result is Along The Way, a collection of mostly traditional songs sensitively produced by Ian McCalman. Dougie comes from a tradition of unaccompanied singing – some would say that’s the only way to sing these songs – but some need a little more which is where the guitar and cittern of Brian Miller come in.

Most of these songs are well-known. That said, I don’t believe that I’d heard the opener, ‘The Bonny Wee Lassie’s Answer’ before and, without buying The Greig-Duncan Collection or at least the first volume, I’m unlikely to discover much more about it. It’s the record’s big production number with two instruments and a chorus and it seems to be about a man enlisting in the army but the significance of her answer evades me. One “new” traditional song on an album is a fair return, however. The other unfamiliar title is ‘Here’s A Health To All True Lovers’ which is a variant of a familiar night-visiting song.

The first of the two contemporary songs is Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ and so widespread has it become I confidently expect to see it credited as traditional very soon. The other modern song is Mike Waterson’s ‘Jack Frost’ in which he invokes Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow as he contemplates the frost patterns on his window.

As for the rest – take your pick of your favourites. The set ends with Sean Cannon’s version of ‘The Wild Rover’ (no table banging) and Sheila Stewart’s ‘The Parting Glass’. I‘ve always liked ‘Mill O’ Tifty’s Annie’ and Brian’s arrangement of ‘The Bonny Light Horseman’ doesn’t let the song drag as it sometimes can. Finally, I will draw attention to ‘Erin Go Bragh’, a song which seems to be taking on a new and different resonance in these troubled times.

Sometimes simple and direct traditional songs are just what you need and this set will do nicely.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Ned O’ The Hill’ – live: