NITEWORKS – Air Faìr An Là (Comann Music, CM002)

Air Faìr An LàIf the combined words “folk” and “electronica” bring on an attack of the vapours, a lie down with the reviving sal volatile of Niteworks’ second album Air Faìr An Là (At Dawn Of Day) might just help. The four Skye lads of Niteworks clearly love their traditional music but, obviously, generations born into techno and its offspring want to reflect contemporary sounds, too. If Martyn Bennett was a pioneer in this field, Niteworks are most ably picking up the reins and forging forward on their own account.

This time around, they’ve engaged top techno producer Alex Menzies (aka Alex Smoke), who overcame his own initial reluctance about the project and has helped to create a vital, full-throttle album that’s subtler than it might at first appear (try the constantly mutating rhythmic pattern punctuating the 1968 spoken-word recording of Skye man, ‘Calum Ruadh MacNeacail’), and definitely stands on its own merits.

Opening with ‘Dookin’’, spacey sonics lope along until first a vibrant fiddle and then pipes drop in, hoisting the melody line across a thumping drumbeat. Kinnaris Quintet’s Fiona MacAskill and her two colleagues provide excellent fiddle parts throughout.

Other guests include Julie Fowlis, whose coolly sparkling vocal soars over ever-intensifying beats in ‘Òran Fir Ghriminis’, and Lewis musician Iain Morrison who brings a slow, atmospheric version of his own song, ‘Like Wolves In The Night’.

SIAN, a trio featuring Ellen MacDonald (recently with Daìmh), deliver crisp vocals on the title track, a waulking song, and also the album’s lead single, reviewed here in a recent Singles Bar. The rapid vocal repetitions are weirdly well-complemented by an ‘80s Kraftwerk-ish bubbling undercurrent. MacDonald’s warm tones also take up ‘Do Dhà Shùil’ (‘Your Two Beady Little Eyes’), a St Kilda lullaby with a soundscape that conjures blowing sand, rattling boat masts and the sea’s sighing fall-rise.

Dragged from the very earth itself is ‘Cumhachd’ (‘Power’ or ‘Energy’): a primal incantation where Allan MacDonald’s hypnotic vocals are slowly subsumed as he picks up the tune on his pipes. More pipes feature on ‘Iain McGee’s’, this time steadily bubbling up through a trance-ish rendering of the tune, before erupting wildly out. In contrast, the increasingly dark, insistent ‘Lùths (Gabh Greim)’ wibbles along, unsteady as an old cassette tape, and closing tune ‘Highlander’s Farewell’ somehow works a traditional strathspey up into what could be an action film car chase soundtrack.

Updating traditional music can be risky, but clearly Niteworks have found their contemporary groove and, right now, they are riding it expertly.

Su O’Brien

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Live at Celtic Connections feat. Julie Fowlis:

DÀIMH – The Rough Bounds (Goat Island Music, GIMCD005)

The Rough BoundsTwenty years to the day since their first gig, Dàimh release their seventh album, The Rough Bounds. While the title might aptly describe the burly chap gracing the cover, it actually relates to the area around West Lochaber where the band originates, “Na Garbh Chrìochan” in Gaelic.

Dàimh (meaning “kinship”) are now a six-piece, with the addition of fiddler Alasdair White to complement Gabe McVarish. The album also features Duncan Lyall (double bass), Martin O’Neill (bodhran) alongside ex-band member Calum Alex MaxMillan, Ewen Henderson and Kathleen MacInnes (backing vocals).

A lively puirt à beul trio (about chickens, Owen’s boat and picking cockles), ‘‘S Trusaidh mi na Coilleagan’ fairly bubbles along like a clear mountain stream. Followed up by ‘12th Of June’, a strong, driving pipe-led set of jigs, these two tracks make an immediately engaging opening to the album.

Sorrowful òran, ‘Tha Fadachd orm Fhìn’ features a delicate metallic sheen of percussion courtesy of guest artist Signy Jakobsdottir, well-partnered with Ellen MacDonald’s expressive vocal. MacDonald’s crystal clear voice is edged with a subtle smokiness and, aside from the liveliness of puirt à beul, the songs of love, loss and longing featured here allow her melancholy lyricism to the fore. (A witty set of icons printed alongside the song titles provides helpful clues about the subject matter: those accompanying ‘Bodach Innse Chrò’ are particularly brilliant).

The tunes mix the band’s arrangements of traditional material with their original compositions, all of which sit together extremely comfortably. New and old interweave unobtrusively. A pair of Donald MacLeod reels, an homage to one of the band’s favourite composers, makes for an interesting diversion. Here, beaty guitar and assertive fiddle provide the framework for a deftly twisting, turning interplay of pipes and whistles.

Arrangements are rich but not overloaded, with the band’s skilful, energetic playing breathing fresh vitality into the tunes. The album culminates with a haunting and lamenting instrumental version of the murderous, ‘Chì mi’n Toman’, with its eerie, lingering final pipe notes.

The Rough Bounds makes a most welcome and assured addition to the Scottish traditional music canon. From here, Dàimh are looking strong and confident as they embark on their next twenty years.
Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.daimh.net

‘Dhannsamaid Le Ailean’ – live:

Dàimh announce new album

Dàimh

Translated from the Gaelic Na Garbh Chrìochan, the Rough Bounds is the area of West Lochaber where Dàimh were formed 20 years ago. Still based in the area, the band’s roots remain firmly tied to the region by the enduring connections of the three remaining founding members.

Historically regarded as an unruly and inaccessible Jacobite stronghold from which Bonnie Prince Charlie both launched his campaign and subsequently fled from in defeat six months later; the landscape of the Rough Bounds is reflected in the breath-taking beauty of Ellen MacDonald’s vocals, the wild grandeur of Dàimh’s pipe and fiddle led instrumentals and the band’s ongoing mission to defend and promote the Gaelic culture.

The idea of crossing the paths of past and future is strongly represented. “Half of the tunes on the record are written by the band and the other half are traditional, the only exception being that of a set of melodies composed by piping legend, PM Donald MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. We wanted to pay tribute to one our favourite composers, but the set also serves as a stepping stone between the old tunes and our own contemporary pieces” explains piper Angus MacKenzie.

Bringing a mixture of seldom-heard songs passed down from family to better-known puirt à beul and ballads, Ellen MacDonald confidently takes command of the vocals and proves she is now a firmly established star in the gaelaxy. The songs cover all of the expected Dàimh themes; drinking, fighting, heartbreak and heading off to sea, never to be seen again.

For this, the band’s seventh album to date, their number swells to six with the addition of Alasdair White who joins Gabe McVarish on fiddle. “Fiddle is spelt with two ‘D’s because Dàimh deserves a double dose of fiddle action” declares Gabe. “Alasdair is just d’man for the job!”

Former Dàimh singer Calum Alex MacMillan makes a cameo appearance alongside Kathleen MacInnes and Ewen Henderson on backing vocals. The Rough Bounds also features guest appearances by instrumentalists Martin O’Neill (bodhran), Duncan Lyall (double bass) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion) and was engineered by Barry Reid.

The Rough Bounds is due for release on Goat Island Music on 27th May 2018; exactly 20 years to the day after their first ever gig. A coinciding launch tour includes 3 venues from their inaugural tour and also notches up the 27th and 28th Scottish Islands the band has performed on.

Artists’ website: https://www.daimh.net/

Daimh announce new album

Daimh announce new album

‘Gaelic Supergroup’ and internationally renowned ambassadors of Highland Music release a new album of traditional material recorded, mastered and designed on the Hebridean Islands.

Never a band to find an easy way to do things, the album was recorded over a week across the Islands of Mull, Skye and South Uist in a series of intimate accoustic get togethers.

“We wanted to record an album of the traditional tunes we have been playing for years at wild dances and ceilidhs across the West Coast and islands” recounts piper Angus MacKenzie who lives on the Isle of Skye. “The best way to capture the feel and spirit we were after was to take the recording studio with us rather than go to the studio and try and make it feel like an island.”

The songs cover the full range of the known Gaelaxy, from dancing and drinking to crofting and un-requited love and are provided by new vocalist and the firmament’s fastest rising star: Ellen MacDonald. Taking the recording process and the fact that all the band live either on the Isles of Skye and Eigg – or in full view of them, the band decided to take the island theme one step further by choosing Beaver Island on Lake Michigan for their North American album launch in September this year.

“Every island has it’s own unique character and charm” relates Eigg adoptee Gabe McVarish, “Yet there is a shared feeling of island mentality’, wherever you go in the world. Beaver Island may have been 4,000 miles away and in the middle of a fresh water lake but at certain points it felt just like home!”

A full Scottish launch tour is planned for spring/summer 2016 and will include a Hebridean world record attempt.

Artists’ website: www.daimh.net