Anyone with even a passing interest in the Scottish folk scene will be aware of Bruce who, since he first dedicated his life to making music professionally back in 1977, has been part of numerous duos and groups as well as releasing several albums, including one interpreting Robert Burns songs. His crowd-funded latest, Together Forever, is a sort of culmination of his musical journey to date, a collection of 33 songs, all bar one covers, that have meant something to him over the years, and on which he’s joined by a glittering array of fellow folk musicians who have come up with him on the folk scene.
Some of the choices and some of the names (Slovenian Alexsander Mežek, Florida coutry singer Grant Maloy Smith who wrote and appears on the Americana dobro-flavoured ‘And The Angels Sang Along’, Scandinavian choir Flekkefjord Sangforenino) will be obscure, others (Barbara Dickson, Jez Lowe, Allan Taylor, Rab Noakes) warmly familiar, but all of them fully warrant their place on this two-disc collection which comes with extensive sleeve notes commentary and list of performers for each track.
To cover each and every one would be an essay, but hopefully the following highlights will give both a flavour of the collection and an incentive to acquire a copy. Disc one opens with the dreamy swaying ‘Cloonaholly’, featuring Robbie Macintosh on guitar and written by the aforementioned Mežek who shares vocals, the title a reference to a village in Co Roscommon, with Bruce providing the Gaelic chorus. Fife harmony singers The Sansgters add their vocals to Alan Bell’s lullabying shanty ‘Windmills’ while Lowe joins for the first of the album’s traditionals, ‘Knight On The Road’, others in the first set being ‘Down To Old Maui’ with Jim Mageean, an acapella ‘John Kananka’ with Kath Bramkamp and Frank Dekkert, and a jaunty ‘The Soldier Maid’ with Janet Weatherson.
Elsewhere, I’d direct you to the Noakes-penned title track featuring Taylor on vocals and acoustic, his take on Dick Gaughan’s ‘Childhood’s Ed’ with Carol Jamieson on piano, a waltz through Woody Guthrie’s ‘1913 Massacre’, a duet with Stephen Quigg, and a fine accordion coloured acoustic reading of Joe South’s ‘Games People Play’ where he duets with Illinois-born and Worcestershire based blues singer Marilyn Middleton Mellor.
The first disc ends with veteran Scottish folkie Watt Nicoll singing lead on a live recording of ‘Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice’ while the second kicks off with the traditional ‘Waterbound’, Bruce adding mandolin and tuba and sharing vocals with Canadian folksinger Lotus Wright who adds banjo, jaws harp and harmonica. It’s followed by another traditional with the legendary Barbara Dickson sharing lead on ‘The Earl O’Moray’, then Jim Malcolm’s reworking of ‘Jimmy’s Gone To Flanders’ on which he plays harmonica and the final from the canon being ‘Billy Taylor’ (aka ‘William Taylor’), the well-known tale of a woman posing as a sailor, Artie Trezise on vocals and Bramkamp providing whistle and recorder.
Further familiar faces arrive with Mike Silver sharing vocals on Gallagher & Lyle’s ‘Stay Young’ and Bob Fox who shares vocals and plays Appalachian dulcimer on ‘Gently Does It’. That was written by Noakes and it’s the writing credits that feature the second disc’s best-known names: Tom Paxton takes two with ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ and ‘I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’; Bill Caddick’s ‘Unicorns’ where Bruce is joined by Ian and Moe Walker; Ian Campbell’s ‘The Old Man’s Song’, a duet with Arthur Johnston, Malvina Reynolds’ ‘Morningtown Ride’, a 60s hit for The Seekers that Bruce sang to his dying mother and here backed by Midlothian’s Ragged Glory; Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Raglan Road’ duetting with Noel Rocks; and, fingerpicked with recorders and fiddles, Allan Taylor’s ‘The Last Train’ which, poignantly, Bruce had intended to record with Noakes and which Taylor sang at the funeral, Bruce adding a final verse in tribute.
There’s also one that deserves special mention, ‘Whaur Dae Ye Gang Tae Oor Darlin’’ which, featuring twin accordions, is a fabulous Scottish twist on Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where To You Go To My Lovely’, a song that reminds Bruce of being woken to do his paper round back in 1967. Together Forever ends then with the sole original, the rousing ‘And We Sing’, an anthemic celebration of the joy of singing that features the massed voices of the Norwegian choir, that, given the impetus behind the collection, serves as a fitting closing note.
Artist’s website: www.ianbrucemusic.com