There are some albums that can be reasonably described as “eclectic” and When The Wind Blows is one such. Any of the threads spun together here: the Gaelic songs, the traditional songs in English and the “contemporary” covers would make for a good album but Elena Piras moves effortlessly between them. Contrary to expectations, Elena was born in Sardinia and was playing professionally in her teens, appearing on Italian television. Aged 18, she moved to London and co-founded the London Bulgarian Choir before moving to Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy of Art. These days you would take her for a native.
She opens with ‘Wild Mountain’s Thyme’ – I’m not sure where the “s” came from but Elena correctly credits the song to Francis McPeake so I’ll forgive her – and sings it straightforwardly as befits a simple love song that doesn’t need a massed chorus. From there she moves to Skye with ‘Soraidh Leis An Ait’’ and you might swear that she was a natural Gaelic speaker; I reckon she can work in four languages at least. Then comes the first surprise – a cover of Sting’s ‘Fields Of Gold’. With Angus Lyon’s piano underpinning the song and Seonaid Aitken’s fiddle decorating it’s a gorgeous, rolling arrangement.
After another Gaelic song, this one from Tiree, we have a more “traditional” style of cover, Adam McNaughton’s ‘Yellow On The Broom’, inspired by the book by traveller Betsy White. The song concentrates on the hostility of the scaldies (non-travellers) for the travelling community, particularly when they had to over-winter in town. Next we have one of my favourites, ‘The Bleacher Lass O’ Kelvinhaugh’ followed by a waulking song from the Hebrides sung with great gusto over Craig Baxter’s bodhran.
‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ was in common currency when I started going to folk clubs in the 1960s – a few simple verses and a good chorus, what more could you want? Here it’s something of a sore thumb. Elena makes a noble attempt by varying the four-square rhythm on the chorus and with Aitken’s fiddle soaring fiddle it makes a nice sound but these days it’s probably something that should only be done in private, unless you’re Tom Paxton, of course.
Next comes ‘Da Fetlar Lullaby’, a beautiful song performed in what I think is the Shetland dialect – there are enough familiar words to figure it out – and Elena follows it with an equally beautiful ‘Ae Fond Kiss’. The quiet contemplative mood continues through ‘A’ Phiuthrag’s A Phiuthar’, a traditional lament, into ‘The Parting Glass’. Except … after the first chorus Elena rocks it up in a manner which seems at odds with “I’ll gently rise and softly call”. A bit strange.
Despite my minor reservations I have enjoyed listening to Where The Wind Blows and look forward to hearing Elena perform live when this mess is all over.
Artist’s website: www.elenapiras.com
A short live set from Elena Piras beginning with ‘Soraidh Leis An Áit’: