KATHERINE CAMPBELL – Robert Burns: Tune Unknown (own label SCKCBU020CD)

Robert Burns: Tune UnknownHere is collection of ten songs written by Robert Burns for which the original tunes are lost or were never known, hence Robert Burns: Tune Unknown. Now I know what you’re thinking: surely a song without a tune is a poem? Better Burns scholars than you or me, notably James C Dick, have established that these are songs. In the case of ‘O, Raging Fortune’s Withering Blast’ Burns noted that he had written a tune but sadly that tune is lost. ‘Here Is The Glen And Here Is The Bower’ was set to a tune called ‘Banks Of Cree’ but that hasn’t been traced. Classically trained musician and singer Katherine Campbell has composed new music for these songs and performs them with just keyboard accompaniments.

Unless you are a Burns aficionado you probably won’t know these songs. Most collections of Burns songs cycle round a familiar selection – and there are plenty to choose from – but some of these titles may make the transition to the popular repertoire. Sadly the opener, ‘In Tarbolton, Ye Ken’, may not be among them. Katherine spreads its fifteen verses over seven minutes and it is, to my mind, the best track on the record but I don’t know who else would sing it. No liberties have been taken with the texts but a glossary helpful translates some of the dialect and the realisation grows that several of these songs refer to “goings-on” – ‘Her Flowing Locks, The Raven’s Wing’ certainly does.

This album is certainly well researched and nicely illustrated but sometimes has the feeling of an academic work. The restrictions of one voice and one instrument risk it sounding samey but conversely Katherine has an excellent, properly trained voice and has written varied tunes which don’t stick to Burns’ trick of borrowing traditional melodies as a starting point. Just give it time.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.katherinecampbell.co.uk