GILLIAN FRAME – Pendulum (Cheery Groove CHEERY005)

PendulumGillian Frame was Scotland’s first Young Traditional Musician Of The Year. That was back in 2001 and it’s taken her the fifteen years since to release her first solo album. Of course she recorded three with the band she helped found, Back Of The Moon, played sessions for other bands and taught fiddle and the songs and tunes performed on Pendulum have been with her from those early days.

There are some fine musicians on the album – a core band of Mike Vass, Anna Massie and Euan Burton with guests Adam Holmes (who is making a name for himself with his own band) and Phil Hague. Despite this fine cast, what I like about this album is its essential directness and simplicity. The songs speak for themselves and the instrumental sets are not excuses for displays of ego.

The record opens with a vigour that initially surprised me. The song is ‘Rothes Colliery’, written by Gillian’s husband, Findlay Napier. It’s a straightforward song about the loss of a colliery and is sung in an appropriately straightforward manner – an excellent start. ‘Lovely Molly’ is a song of romantic trickery, played with a light touch and, like all the songs, sung without false emotion.

I’m in no way swayed by the fact that one of my all-time favourite Scottish songs, ‘Silver Tassie’, is included in the set with Holmes sharing lead vocals and that it’s followed immediately with ‘Fine Flooers In The Valley’ with ‘The Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ as a bonus. This is an excellent album.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.gillianframe.com

MICHELLE BURKE – Step Into My Parlour (Kilcronat Records KLC002CD)

StepIntoMyParlourIt’s probably a dreadful cliché to describe this album as “beguiling” but that is exactly what it is. The style stems from Michelle’s childhood memories of Sunday singsongs after mass at her grandparents’ house and the songs here are the same eclectic mix that would have been sung then.

James Ross provides the piano accompaniments which we suppose would have been integral to the proceedings and Michelle is joined by a number of star guests including Cathal McConnell, Anna Massie, Brendan Power and Heidi Talbot. Despite the stellar cast the album retains the feeling of the front parlour with everyone on their best behaviour – which our imaginations can contrast with the saloon bar down the street.

The opening track, ‘Eileen O’Grady’, is a song of courting that was once in the repertoire of Josef Locke and it’s followed by a real heartstring-tugging ballad, ‘Dan O’Hara’, written by the remarkable Delia Murphy, or at least recorded by her. This isn’t the place to recount her story but I urge you to look her up on the interweb. The blend of traditional Irish songs like ‘A Kiss In The Morning Early’ and ‘My Boy Billy’ – rarely heard these days – and popular songs like ‘Twilight Time’ from The Platters is topped off by Aunty Peggy’s party-piece, ‘Whooped And Died’, on which Michelle is joined by members of her family, reinforcing the sense of time and place.

You might find Step Into My Parlour a bit Val Doonican and perhaps it is but he too was a product of the same times and places and sometimes nostalgia can be a wonderful thing.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.michelleburkemusic.com

The official promo video:

BLAZIN’ FIDDLES – new album – SIX

SixRight from the outset, Blazin’ Fiddles was never going to be “just another band”; there was a mission and purpose!

The band was formed in 1998 by Bruce MacGregor, at that stage a lowly BBC Radio Scotland Researcher with a chip on his shoulder.

Funnily enough for a band celebrating their 15th year, the original concept was it was never intentionally to be a touring band. It was a statement about where we, as Scots and Highlanders, were in terms of musical identity, particularly the Highlands and Islands and the best way to do it was in the shape of a musical showcase.

So in early ‘98 MacGregor walked in to the office of The Highland Festival with a plan to showcase the distinct voices of the Highlands and islands fiddle music.

“I had a list of fiddle players I liked and had met at sessions or festivals. I had no budget, no idea what I was doing but I came out an hour later and we had a tour and a budget” explained MacGregor

The name Blazin’ Fiddles came with a meaning and some baggage.

The most obvious explanation to anyone who has seen the band play, describes the frenetic, sometimes manic performances of the band – something that has won them admirers from Buckingham Palace to the Albert Hall, to private concerts for the likes of Billy Connolly and Sean Connery.

The second meaning comes from Scotland’s history and the way in which religious orders and governments tried to stamp out music in the Highlands and Islands. Fiddles and pipes were piled in pyres and set alight on account of them being instruments of the devil.

The continued existence and indeed revival of the music has been phoenix-like, over the last few decades, and Blazin’ Fiddles have played more than their part.

“We’ve all been lucky enough to have been brought up and taught by true masters of the music, people who have passed on the traditions to us through difficult times. My own was Donald Riddell and Jenna’s was the great Willie Hunter – these guys didn’t just teach the music, they taught you the culture, the history and the importance of the music to your society.”

What makes Blazin’ Fiddles distinctive from other fiddle bands is their continued efforts to showcase the styles of their area. This allow audiences to hear the dialects within the music.

Trends will come and go in folk music but what you always get from Blazin’ Fiddles is 100% authenticity and passion no matter who is in the line up – and that comes because of the material and the band member’s musical heritage”.

“The history is vital for us but so is keeping the music modern and relevant to today’s audiences. That’s where Anna Massie and Angus Lyon come into the equation. Both brought up within the tradition but both happily embracing new techniques. There is a fine line between modernising a tune for the sake of it to show how clever you are with your chords and at other times just knowing that the rhythm and the melody is the key. Knowing where that line is, is the secret to developing the music and respecting the tradition”

So here we are, fifteen years down the line. The Blazers’ are still making wonderful albums, still touring (Celtic Connections on 31st January) and still winning awards (recently, winning “Folk Band of the Year” at the 2013 MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards.)

 Blazin’ Fiddles are more than a band and SIX is more than an album—-Enjoy!!!!

Catalogue Number: BRCD2013

Distribution: Proper Music Distribution & Highlander Distribution

Tour news available from www.blazinfiddles.com

Release Date: Monday, 3rd February, 2014.

Cheyenne Brown – Parallel Latitudes

Alaskan harpist Cheyenne Brown’s beautifully packaged new album “Parallel Latitudes” is a project which aims to highlight connections between music of her homeland, her adopted home of Scotland and sources further a field.

Jigs, reels and tunes are presented with an eclectic mix of accompanying instruments ranging from dobra to banjo, tabla to bodhran. Traditional airs are given inventive settings and juxtaposed against atmospheric melodies with Cheyenne’s own compositions “Seals at Rhu” and “Ruth’s Recovery” showing that she is a musical force to be reckoned with as well as a harpist of great dexterity.

“Parallel Latitudes” is an accomplished enterprise which showcases not only a highly talented soloist and her band but also the wide ranging capabilities of the traditional harp particularly on the improvisatory title track.

Cheyenne’s harp is supported by Seylan Baxter on cello, Jon Bews on fiddle, Dave Currie on dobro, Dave Boyd on percussion, Jon Bews on fiddle, Hardeep Deerhe on tabla and Anna Massie on banjo. “Parallel Latitudes” has been nominated for the Roots Album of the Year at the Scottish Music Awards.

Janet M. Roe

Artist Web Link www.cheyenneharp.com

BLAZIN’ FIDDLES – Thursday Night In The Caley (Blazin’ Records BRCD2011)

The unrestrained passion bursts forth from the string driven sound that is Blazin’ Fiddles and from the very first track “Fashion O’ The Lassies/Sound Of Mull/Janine’s Reel/The Storm” the enjoyment conveyed by each member contagiously transmits its way to the listener. In these times of notable recession it’s nice to find music so uplifting that it can’t help but bring a smile to the face of even the most jaundiced members of the public. Even without the charismatic flourishes from Catriona MacDonald but now utilising the services of the equally talented Shetland fiddler Jenna Reid and Anna Massie on guitar/fiddle the join is seamless for those of us that have been following the band’s career to date. Of course the main thrust of the recording features the fiddles of Bruce MacGregor, Allan Henderson and Iain MacFarlane packing an almighty punch and not to be outdone, the exuberant skills of Andy Thorburn’s honky-tonk piano accompaniment on James Hill’s wonderful hornpipe “The Golden Eagle” will, I’m sure be approved by musicians everywhere. All in all this is an energetic performance that should find its way onto the shelf of any self-respecting collector of ‘quality’ folk music.

PETE FYFE

Artist website: http://www.blazinfiddles.com/