Megan Henderson is a fiddler, pianist, singer and composer and a member of one of Scotland’s finest bands – Breabach. Surprisingly, Pilgrim Souls is her first solo album and she has been able to recruit some of Scotland’ top talent to support her: Mairi Campbell, Su-a Lee, Laura Beth Salter, Anna Massie, Jack Smedley and Alistair Iain Paterson. For good measure there is also Olav Luksengård Mjelva playing Hardanger on four of the seven tracks. The music is inspired by paintings by Christine Clark which are reproduced in the booklet.
The album opens with a gentle piano figure over a drone introducing ‘The Dawn Chorus’. It’s rather like hearing the first birdsong as the sun appears then builds on a repeated piano figure with fiddle taking the melody as more voices join in. Clark’s paintings seem to feature small details in an expansive backdrop and, naturally Henderson’s music moves from the intimate and gentle as she raises her eyes to the horizon both visually and musically.
The second track is ‘Flight Of Fancy’, featuring Su-a Lee on saw. Often a saw is hidden away in the mix but here it’s clearly featured so we know why it’s there. The painting appears to be of a flying whale but it could be breaking the surface to breathe. The title is appropriate in either case. The title track is the first of two songs, this one featuring additional lyrics by William Butler Yeats, and the second is ‘The Composer’, sung in Gaelic. This painting is another delightful puzzle. What at first appears to be a submarine conning tower just above the water resolves into a piano which makes more sense.
Pilgrim Souls is almost impossible to describe – you have to experience it; both the music and the paintings as a whole. If there were a vinyl version with larger pictures that would be the version to have. I realise that I’ve been banging on about the paintings more than the music but that music is dramatic and ethereal and, with repeated listening, I can say that it stands on its own as a thing of beauty.
Artist’s website: https://www.meganhendersonmusic.com/
There are no videos from Pilgrim Souls available as yet so here’s a blast of Breabach: