The Best of Kris Drever is a collection of the Scottish singer-songwriter’s “Love of our land’s sacred rights”, as indeed, these songs sing with the deep Alban soul that touches the music of Robert Burns, Tony Cuffe (of Ossian fame!), Dick Gaughan, Andy M. Stewart, Dougie MacLean, Jim Malcolm, those Proclaimers, and of course, his dad (and the pride of Orkney!) Ivan Drever, all of whom still, and will forever, “flourish on both sides of the Tweed”.
There are thirty-six songs here. And that’s a lot of Belhaven Scottish ale pints to be discussed. But no matter, as (the great) Burton Cummings of my beloved Guess Who once sang, “Skip a stone lightly and you’ll be okay”.
And, as my friend, Kilda Defnut, always says, “Let’s skip a few stones and drink a few pints”.
That said (and consumed!), Kris handles traditional tunes with reverential beauty. The very first song, ‘Farewell To Fuineray”, drifts with windblown memory, a forlorn vocal, and a sad violin. This has Burns’ beauty. And ‘O’ A’ The Airts’ walks a musical tightrope with the passionate purity of a favorite Scottish ale memory. This is sublime stuff. And, to quote The Cure, this is a bit of “The Holy Hour”. Ditto for the lovely pathos pulsed ‘Isle Of France’, which adds Eamonn Coyne, with whom our KD recorded the wonderful Honk Toot Suite album. Again, this is music with immense weight of history, and perhaps, some lovely hope.
A few more “skipped stones”: There are several songs with Lau – a trio that includes Kris, Aidan O’ Rourke and Martin Green on fiddle and accordion, respectively. ‘Unquiet Grave’ swells with tragic darkly inked beauty. The tune spins with the depth of a lover’s hope to “crave a cold kiss” from a very (and sadly) dead lover. Yeah, this is really nice ballad stuff! Then, ‘Throwing Pennies On The Ground’, again, stirs a spooky broth with odd percussion and haunting fiddle, and is, perhaps, a really decent pagan cathedral prayer for the man who says, “I weigh my heart with an anchor made of stone”. Seriously, this lyric conjures the oblique pathos of a Richard Thompson song. Thankfully, ‘She Put Her Headphones On’ captures the weird and wonderful Lau sound. This is wobbly folk music. The same is true for ‘Itshardtoseemtobeokwhenyourenot’ (nice title, that!) with its zigzag vocal and jagged instrumental pulse. And, ‘Dark Secret’, in keeping with the band’s ethos, gets moody and impressionistic. Of course, these Lau tunes feature KD’s vocals, but truly, the band’s live album (Lau Live) is certainly worth a spin as the eight-minute instrumental ‘Stewarts’ (not included in this package) begins with a nice highland melody that suddenly erupts into a “furious Bandersnatch” of a rather glorious buzzsaw triad that suggests Bonnie Prince Charlie still has a point, even after all these years, and makes a chaotic attempt to rewrite, scramble, and invigorate history. Good folk music (and time travel!) should do that every once in a while.
And then there are cover songs that are “skipped lightly”: Sandy Wright’s ‘Steel And Stone (Blackwater)’ is gorgeous and recalls the honest sound of Canada’s David Francey. Her song ‘Singing Star’ adds a country vibe to this set. Boo Hewerdine’s ‘Harvest Gypsies’ is an up-tempo song that evokes (the brilliant) Ralph McTell. And the ultra-melodic ‘Navigator’, by Phil Gaston, echoes the work of the sainted Dick Gaughan. Then, the up-tempo ‘Capernaum’ stirs the slow-burning cauldron and adds nimble guitar work into the broth.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, summarized all these songs with her comment, “Kris Drever creates music that has melodic eyes that can see in the dark”.
Sure. But, of course, (and perhaps to over-extend the use of the superlative!) the “best of the best” is found in Kris’s self-penned songs that brew a Scotch ale from folk song hops. ‘If Wishes Were Horses’ certainly evokes the spirit of (the also great) Bruce Cockburn. The same is true for the quick pulse of ‘Hard Year’ that almost touches a reggae vibe. And ‘Sanday’ is simply gorgeous, as is the contemplative ‘Five Past Two’. And ‘Scapa Flow 1919’ gets all historical in an Al Stewart sort of way. Nice.
Now, special note must be given to the song ‘The Poorest Company’ that was written and performed by Kris, John McCuster, and Roddy Woomble (of Idlewild fame!). The song catches the perfect ethos of this album’s tender passion. In the Children’s Museum in Edinburgh, there’s a worn sole of a torn shoe that has been (with humble magic) made into a child’s doll. That old love – possibly through those eyes that see in the dark – inhabits the soul of this song.
Now (again!), it’s important to note that I was, in my high school year book, dubbed (of all things!) “Least likely to hold a grudge”; but with that said, the September 2006 edition of Mojo magazine completely flubbed a review that awarded a mere two stars to Roddy Woomble’s brilliant album, My Secret Is My Silence. This is, even after all these years, grudge-worthy because the album is the stuff of a four-star review, with an extra puff for a really cool cover. Roddy’s songs deeply embrace Scottish folk tradition and are coloured with electric highland mystery, all with a lovely worn hand-woven wool cap, to boot!
With that said, yeah, The Best Of Kris Drever is an immense thirty-six song set. But, to mention a few more skipped stones of self-penned songs, ‘I Didn’t Try Hard Enough’ is a clever tune of no love lost, as Kris sings, “I miss the factory more that I miss you”. The Hallmark break-up card department should take note! And ‘Where The World Is Thin’ brilliantly captures the uncertainty of life with the words, “Here’s this beautiful death mask/Your signature and a crown of thorns”. Sometimes, even the swiftest stone ebbs its toss and descends into deep ink-blotted, watery, and very literary depths. And finally, (of course!) there’s a new song that’s an acoustic ode to painter Joan Eardley and her depictions of the Scottish fishing village of ‘Catterline’ (hence the song’s title). It’s a lovely wind brushed votive candle of a song.
There’s a magical mysticism in the current in these songs. The Greek guy Heraclitus once said, “You can’t step in the same river twice”. Likewise, great music flows from the past, into the present, and then into an always unknown melodic future. I think (to get all literary!) Siddhartha understood the very same thing. Bob Dylan simply sang about “watching the river flow”. And Kris Drever watches those eternal folky waters, and then writes with a deep Alban soul that’s magically transcendental and laced with Pictish stone wisdom, that’s allowed, forever and day, (just like his dad’s music) to “flourish on both sides of the Tweed”.
Artist’s website: https://www.krisdrever.com/
We’re spoiled for choice when selecting a video. I picked this one but maybe ‘I Didn’t Try Hard Enough’: