In these strange times it took this album six weeks to arrive from Australia. I’d almost forgotten about it and I’m sure that Fiona Ross had given up hope of ever hearing from me again. But arrive it did and I’m very pleased about that. Sunwise Turn is a collection of traditional and almost-traditional Scottish songs sung by a Scottish exile and accompanied by an Australian guitarist and producer. Fiona has strong voice devoid of over-decoration; she lets the songs speak for themselves and is equally compelling with a light love song or a gory murder ballad.
Many of the songs on Sunwise Turn will be familiar and, because Fiona learned them back home in her younger days, there is little deviation from the accepted texts. First is ‘The Lowlands Of Holland’ and Fiona avoids the temptation to use an antipodean version referring to New Holland. She runs the gamut of emotions from anger to resignation through the song. Burns’ ‘The Slave’s Lament’ is all resignation and then comes a song I hadn’t heard before. ‘Caller O’u’ is a 19th century song based on the cries of oyster sellers in Edinburgh with the rising notes of “Caller O’u” guaranteed to ring out through the streets.
By coincidence Fiona provides the second new version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ I’ve heard this month, giving it extra poignancy by singing it so far from home and closes the album with another Burns’ song, ‘John Anderson My Jo, John’. Now, though, things get a bit more serious. ‘Cam Ye O’er Frae France’ is a Jacobite song, albeit a jolly one but ‘Capernaum’ really hits hard. It was written by Scottish poet Lewis Spence and paints an unpleasant picture of Edinburgh’s past. Shane’s accompaniment is full of ringing gloomy chords which suit the mood perfectly. Next comes the bloody tale of ‘Mill O Tifty’s Annie’ sometimes known as ‘Andrew Lammie’. This is the full text – many versions omit Annie’s murder – hear “Her brother struck her wondrous sore/Wi cruel strokes and many/He’s broke her back on the high ha’ door” and try to repress a shudder. Fiona performs the song unaccompanied with just enough echo to suggest a drafty castle hall.
I’d not heard ‘This Is No’ My Plaid’ before. It’s another Jacobite piece disguised as a love song although Fiona omits the more obviously political verses. After ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ comes ‘Wae’s Me For Prince Charlie’, another Jacobite poem written long after the Battle Of Culloden put an end to the 1745 uprising.
Shane’s accompaniments are robust and, like Fiona’s singing, not given to over-elaboration, mostly holding to the melodies. They do, however, reinforce the mood of the songs and would, in some cases, stand up in their own right. Sunwise Turn comes highly recommended from a fan of Scottish song.
Artist’s website: www.fionaross.com.au
‘Auld Lang Syne’ – live with Shane O’Mara: