Hailing from, respectively, Orkney and Peebles, Catriona Price and Esther Swift have been making waves on the Scottish folk scene since releasing their debut album back in 2010. Twinning their high pitched vocals, with Price on fiddle and Swift on harp and clarsach, they’re an impressive pair of musicians with the awards to prove it. Working largely within the Scottish musical and lyrical tradition, they draw upon landscapes and memories, the opening number, ‘Noise Show’, intended to evoke the serenity of their remote childhood landscapes, the tranquillity gradually giving way to the effects of the urban sprawl as the sound builds, while ‘The Beach’ is an instrumental inspired by those on which they played, most especially on the Isle of Mull and at Hoy.
Celtic myth is embraced on ‘Shapeshifter’, the story of a woman who falls in love with a male Selkie and joins him in the sea while. On a more realistic, but no less romantic note, ‘Dusking’ seeks to capure the atmosphere of an Edinburgh spring evening while the city also provides the backdrop for ‘A City You Can See Out Of’, which celebrates the true stories of three different women who found strength in loss.
‘Young Sir’ takes the traditional Scottish tale of a bonny lass who, unable to pay her rent, runs away to England, wins the heart of a rich man, steals his horse and returns home, although here the horse is updated to his car. The only exception to local colour comes with the album title track, an adaptation of the American folk song ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ that transforms into a sprightly instrumental.
It is all immaculately played and precisely sung, but that’s where my reservations emerge. They seem so bound up in their craft that there’s little room for heart, resulting in a pristine but somewhat detached sound that’s more intellectual than emotional. Additionally, while not disputing their mastery of their instruments, of the three instrumentals, neither ‘Me And My Friend’ or ‘The Beach’ have sufficient variety of colour or texture to warrant their near six minute playing time, only the short and simple fiddle dominated ‘Swimming Safe’ really achieving its aims.
They are, without doubt, extremely talented and clearly think deeply about their material; if they can tap into the passion to match the proficiency, they could be huge.
Official video of ‘Young Sir’:
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