Scottish musicians seem particularly adept at finding new ways of presenting their music but few are quite as charming as Nae Sweets For Shy Bairns, the debut album from harpist Heather Downie. From first listening I was captivated by her sound and I’m still impressed by the range of her sources and inspirations.
The first tune in the opening set, ‘For The Love Of Levers’, is written by percussionist Tia Files who supports Heather throughout the album. Heather generously lets Tia start and the piece thus has a syncopation which Heather carries over into the second tune. It’s good to start with a smile. The mood immediately changes with ‘Niel Gow’s Lament For The Death Of His Second Wife’, a lovely, reflective tune. Heather mixes one of her own tunes, ‘William The Conqueror’, written for her fiancé, with Jay Ungar’s ‘Wizard’s Walk’ and you realise that she is not going to do things the easy way. Both Gow’s and Ungar’s tunes were written for the fiddle and the first tune in the ‘Midnight’ set comes from another fiddle-player, Aidan O’Rourke, while its companion is another of Tia Files’ compositions.
Next Heather turns her attention to a classic of the pipe repertoire. ‘The Field Of Gold’ is a piobaireachd written by P/M Donald MacLeod and Heather attempts to reproduce the ornamentation of the piper on the harp. It’s not easy and, unusually, Heather sings a little of the canntaireachd over her harp at the end. Two very jolly marches are next and the album closes with ‘Under The Stars’, one of Heather’s one tunes played over field recordings made in Portugal.
There are two songs. The first, ‘The Best Of Us’, is co-written by Heather as tribute to her aunt and is pretty and sincere. The second, ‘Stronger Than You Know’, is written and sung by Corinna Hewat who also produced the record. But, nice as these songs are, the focus is, and should remain, on Heather and her harp.
Artist’s website: http://www.heatherdownie.co.uk/