Following a somewhat unexpected and adventurous debut album, Claire Hastings became a Top Floor Taiver – still adventurous – and now reappears with her second solo album. Those Who Roam leans more heavily on the tradition which made her reputation as a Young Traditional Musician Of The Year but is by no means a retrograde step. In fact, it’s my second contender for album of the year from the three I’ve heard so far. Claire has slimmed down her band to four players and has engaged go-to producer Inge Thomson who is, no doubt, responsible for the sometimes ethereal feel of the album. Abandoning the ukulele was probably a good move, too.
As you probably guessed, not least from Claire’s sprauncy attire, the theme of the album is travellers; those who journey willingly and those forced to travel; those who journey heroically and those for whom it is just a way of life. The opening track, ‘The Lothian Hairst’, concerns the latter, gangs who worked the harvests in the 19th century, beginning in the Lothians and moving northwards as they followed the ripening grain. Told from the point of view of a female worker it sounds like a great life and benefits from a modern arrangement featuring Jenn Butterworth’s guitar and Tom Gibbs’ piano plus the sound of scythes: another of Thomson’s touches.
‘Jack The Sailor’, a variation on the female midshipman theme, is completely different, racing along on Laura Wilkie’s fiddle and driven by Andrew Waite’s accordion while ‘Seven Gypsies’ and ‘Sailin’s A Weary Life’, with its doom-laden arrangement, both concern loss but for very different reasons. Next comes ‘Fair Weather Beggar’, the first of Claire’s own songs, about an Edinburgh busker who doesn’t like the rain, followed by a rather pretty written song from the 18th century. ‘Logie O’ Buchan’ is the age-old story of the lecherous landlord and the poor couple forcibly separated.
Claire’s second original song, ‘Noble Helen Of Cluden’, is based on a possibly true story borrowed by Sir Walter Scott for The Heart Of Midlothian and is a sort of twist on ‘Geordie’. ‘Jamie Raeburn’ is a fairly familiar transportation ballad and in complete contrast it’s followed by Dave Alvin’s ‘King Of California’ which tells another age-old story set this time in gold-rush America. Finally we have ‘Ten Thousand Miles which closes with the same sound that begins ‘The Lothian Hairst’; soft strings that are probably Wilkie’s fiddle treated by Thomson.
Those Who Roam really is an excellent album and, much as I enjoyed Between River And Railway, it’s a big step forward.
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‘King Of California’ – live at Costa del Folk: