Odd: Sometimes age sings with the most youthful voice: Such is the case with Staran’s self-titled album of Scottish folk music that touches the fresh watery current of the Euphrates River on the third day of creation, yet revolves around a newly discovered planet that sings fresh hymns to a (sort of) jazzy, chamber music- infused, and always clever universe.
Odd (again!): Sometimes youth sings with the most aged voice: Such is the case (once more) with Staran’s self-titled album of Scottish folk music that loves any current dance, yet gazes with hoary wisdom of the melodic certainty of wind, the rain, and the weathered gravestones in any country churchyard.
To be blunt: Staran (aka Stepping Stones) is a wonderful and deeply warm Scottish folk album.
Now, the American author Gertrude Stein wrote, “A rose is a rose is a rose”. Well, then, perhaps, “A Pentangle is a Pentangle is a Pentangle”. Indeed, Staran is a collaboration of five of Scotland’s finest: Kim Carnie, John Lowrie, Innes White, James Lindsay and Jack Smedley. And while their sound is quite different from, say, that other five starred and brilliant band who gave the world Basket Of Light, this Scottish “collective” (to quote their bio) “is a meeting of musical minds”. And, “While the overall sound is rooted in Scottish traditional music, there are undoubtedly elements of inspiration from genres of jazz, minimalism and experimental electronica”. Not only that, but James Lindsay plays a stand-up double bass! Thank you very much, Danny Thompson!
And, quite frankly (for the purists!) there’s nary any “experimental electronica” to be heard.
The first song, ‘Da Laimh Sa Phiob’, touches that minimalism, but it’s a lovely paintbrush that frames Kim Carnie’s votive candle voice with the sight shadow of John Lowrie’s piano and Jack Smedley’s haunted violin. Pictish ghosts dance in the melody.
‘Back To Glasgow’ is piano paced (sort of jazzy) instrumental, with a languid fiddle, and that double bass that contemplates the depth of any given Scottish loch—yet (and that’s a big yet!) the tune erupts into a sharp broadsword dance with a not-so languid fiddle bouncing around Innes White’s acoustic guitar. Oh – and that stand-up double bass is perfect, again.
The second song, ‘Horo Gun Togainn Air Hugan Fhathast Thu’, once again, reveals the antique vocals of Kim Carnie, set against a quiet keyboard, while the band swells with instrumental drama. In a way, this glances at the intricate sound of Triona Ni Domhnaill (of The Bothy Band and Relativity fame!).
There is ample instrumental insight and fire: ‘Einbeck’, with its piano and violin slow dance, is a prelude that, indeed, “steps” with “stones” from the stars. Then, ‘Casino’ burns with violin fuel, quelled (for a moment!) by piano introspection – until the violin returns with fires amped with the lovely heartbeat of very modern and very green renewable energy.
‘Little Waves’ allows guitar and violin to twirl under melodic stars.
A third song, ‘Gaol A’ Chruidh’, is lovely and patient – and it hangs in the pensive air of Loch Lomond’s best melodies. It’s a lovely tune, with acoustic guitar and subtle piano.
‘Balcarres’ is (almost) seven minutes of instrumental beauty that hovers over the Clava Cairns Stone Circle (on a cloudy day!) with the near perfect silence of even more damp magic in the air, while the piano probes the depths of other lochs, and then the tune discovers an age-old dance step that (with a modern groove) still loves “both sides of the Tweed”, with the barest trace of a carbon footprint.
The final song, ‘Settle, Honey’, is a final prayer with a slight Americana country vibe, that successfully punctuates the passion of the previous music and makes a lonely and earnest plea that conjures the pathos of the forlorn Richard and Linda Thompson song, ‘Has He Got A Friend For Me’. It’s a nice and very human way to spin into an inner final Gaelic groove.
Staran bleeds with the beauty of the past, and then dances on sad graves. Nice melodies do that all the time. But it’s also a very modern album with abundance of renewed energy that casts its lure in the lovely Tweed and catches yet another glance at the (thankfully) ever-flowing current of an ever pulsing Scottish traditional song.
Artists’ website: www.staranmusic.com
‘Gaol A’ Chruidh’ – official video: