With her fifth solo album, Emily Smith has returned to traditional song. I have to say that this pleases me greatly, not because I dislike her songwriting, but because the great canon of Scottish traditional song cries out for her voice to record it.
That may be a trifle ambitious but Echoes is an excellent way to start going about it. The core band of Emily’s producer and husband Jamie McClennan, Matheu Watson, Signy Jakobsdottir and Ross Hamilton is augmented by guests including Kris Drever, Tim Edey and Jerry Douglas bringing a variety of influences to the songs without detracting from their essential Scottishness. Douglas’s slide guitar adds an entirely unexpected texture to the opener, ‘Reres Hill’ and to an inspired ‘King Orfeo’ in which Emily retains the Gaelic refrain. There’s a touch of seventies’ folk-rock in ‘My Darling Boy’ but ‘Twa Sisters’ and ‘Clerk Saunders’ contrive to sound both modern and old simultaneously. The performances are all first class and I should single out the cello of Natalie Haas as being a key element of the arrangements, majestically underlining the songs.
There are three “modern” written songs – written within the last fifty years, that is. Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’ has almost attained traditional status but Darrell Scott’s ‘The Open Door’ is essentially a country song that is presented here almost as a tale of Scots emigration to the New World. Finally we have Bill Caddick’s ‘John O’ Dreams’. It’s a song we’ve all heard many times before – because it’s a bloody good song – but Emily manages to bring something fresh to it by not trying to do anything clever. It’s probably my favourite version.
In case I’ve not made myself clear, Echoes is a brilliant album.
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Artist’s website: www.emilysmith.org