Graeme Armstrong’s first solo album, You Are Free, is a gorgeous collection of original and traditional songs from the Scottish Borders. Perhaps, it isn’t for those folk fans who only enjoy the purest of Scots whiskey in a tuneful dram, as the songs are lightly seasoned with, besides the customary guitar, double bass, and voice, piano, keys, strings, synthesizer, double bass, and (always languid) brass that are added into the mix. But not to fear, this music is still an old tapestry that just gets washed gently with the crystal clear water of a springtime river (aka those keys, strings, synths, and brass) that beautifully bulges over its customary borderland banks.
Case in point: Graeme and band tackle the traditional song, ‘My Son David’, which was covered to acoustic perfection by June Tabor & Oysterband on their brilliant Ragged Kingdom album. But this new version adds that before-mentioned modern instrumentation, a glorious double tracked vocal chorus, patience galore, as the whole thing swirls in a beautiful and hypnotic eddy caught in the current of that crystal clear springtime river.
Another case in point: Capercallie and Dick Gaughan left very little left to be sung from the heartbeat Scottish blood of Robert Burns’ ‘Both Sides Of The Tweed’, yet Graeme and company, with more swirling sounds, lift the tune into a quiet orbit that retains its common dignity that still contemplates the plight of ‘A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough, November 1785’. And of course, we all now know of the certainty, ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’. Thankfully, this album never strays from that poetic thought.
And just so you know, Graeme does come with an impressive resume: He’s won awards as a member of Talisk and was founding member of Rachel Hamer Band.
That all said, there is new tradition here: The first song, ‘Isle Of France’ (once covered by Nic Jones on his elusive The Noah’s Ark Trap album), pulses and even throbs a bit, but more importantly, it Woombles in a Roddy (he of Idlewild fame) way. Truthfully, I never thought I’d be moved with a similar emotive patient wind that’s found in the grooves of Roddy’s My Secret Is My Silence. But Graeme manages a pretty close photo finish. Wow. The same is true for the urgent original title track, ‘You Are Free’, which condenses the Scottish breath of so many Robert Burns poems, with a whirlwind echo of (the great) Dick Gaughan. And Ditto for the absolutely melancholic reading of Sandy Wright’s ‘Beads And Feathers’. It’s a lovely song that recalls (the also very great) Andy M. Stewart.
Another original, ‘William’s Song’, slow dances in waltz time and has a slight country flavor that frames its fatherhood passion.
And Graeme gives a sublime touch to Karine Polwart’s ‘Waterlilly’ from her Faultlines album.
The piano graced ‘The Beast’, cradles the beauty of Michael Marra’s song and again uses Michael Owers’ brass to rest in the memory of melodic soft autumnal heather afternoon.
The self-penned ‘Sit Alone’ fuses acoustic sensibility with pulsing synthesizers. But, despite its modern vibe, there’s not a Peatbog Faerie electronica dance step found in this still quite mystical introspective music.
And finally, ‘Fine Flowers In The Valley’ grows with defiant Scottish soul. Big percussion kicks the tune into a fine orbit that circles such epic inner groove passion of Silly Wizard, Five Hand Reel, and Dougie Maclean.
As my friend, Kilda Defnut, always says, ‘The folk tide always returns to wash old discarded drift to make beach clutter melodically shine”. To tell the truth, that one still baffles me. But, sure, and perhaps, yeah, You Are Free isn’t for those folk fans who only enjoy the purest of Scots whiskey in a tuneful dram, but this album leaps with Solstice certainty that will always love the old tunes, but will find, thankfully, that springtime river that will eternally bulge over those customary borderland banks and manage to write a pretty good brand new song.
Artist’s website: https://www.graemearmstrongmusic.com/
‘Isle Of France’ – official video: