Blazin’ Records BFCD2015
THE first full album from the current Blazers’ compliment (although there has been a limited release of solo pieces) shows that the faces may change, but there remains a consistency of quality at the heart of the band. With only Bruce MacGregor left from the line up that first appeared at the long defunct Highland Festival, the 2015 crop still fly the flag for the fiddle traditions of the Highlands and Islands, whether playing with the pedal to the floor or in their more reflective moments.
It is not all about the fiddles – check Angus Lyon’s piano intro to Pat The Budgie (the liner notes leave it up to you to decide whether that is a name or an instruction).
The Untied Knot
MARKING their 25th anniversary this year, the Shoogles have been treading the boards and travelling the road even longer than the Blazers although with nothing close to the same turnover of personnel.
Not that there aren’t a couple of newer, if familiar faces, on this latest album.
The trademark dance-friendly grooves of Angus R. Grant’s fiddle and fellow lead instrument the mandolin, supplied by relative newcomer Ewan MacPherson, are still at the heart of the Shoogle sound, but the world travellers have also added some influences from Asia and the Pacific.
The biggest change, however, is the integration of old friend, and wife of percussionist James Mackintosh, Kaela Rowan, who adds some sweet puirt a beul vocals to the previously instrumental band’s richly textured sets.
Tied To The Moon
Middle of Nowhere Records
THE second album from the Carrbridge singer-songwriter shows Sermanni stepping out into the wider musical world with an increased confidence. The backing is more muscular with a more rocky edge than her ethereal debut and there is an Americana feel perhaps not unconnected to much of the album having been written in Nova Scotia.
Lyrically too there has been a change in Sermanni’s writing which sometimes carries an underlying edginess that justifies that oft-mentioned "folk noir" description of Sermanni’s words.
Yet voice and music retain the captivating quality of Sermanni’s live performance, although now more knowing and experienced than the pure voiced teenager of her debut and songs like Old Lady’s Lament show a Richard Thompson like ability to inhabit the skin of her characters.
One of Britain’s most promising folk artists, The Observer reckons. There’s no disagreement here.
FAMILIAR on the Scottish music scene as a member of folk-pop outfit Admiral Fallow, Hayes make her solo album debut with what was originally a Celtic Connections’ New Voices commission.
With influences from both sides of the Border – Hayes is a Northumbrian, but long resident in Scotland – and flitting between classical and traditional influences, the former BBC Young Folk award finalist references familiar traditional songs but still produces something fresh and unique.
Abetted by a select group of musicians from the folk rather than the rock world, including Ross-shire accordionist Mairearad Green, Hayes’ music, like her singing voice, is warmly intimate, tunes and songs flowing into each other in a single soundscape. The album is dedicated to Hayes late grandmother which only adds to its emotional power.
Beg and Borrow
Temple Records COMD2107
THAT well established Scottish musical institute, the Battlefield Band, has a long history of marking and celebrating Scotland’s musical and other links with our Celtic cousins across the water. The band itself has some solid Irish connections in long-serving producer and Temple Records boss Robin Morton, and singer-guitarist Sean O’Donnell, a relative newcomer having only been around for the last decade of the Batties’ 45 year old history.
The band’s 32nd (yes, 32nd) album is set to be the definitive statement on that particular Celtic connection. Weighing in at a chunky 78 minutes with 18 tracks, it finds the current three core members joined by a dozen special guests divided between Scottish and Irish representatives, although in the best sporting tradition Australian piper Barry Gray is drafted in to play for Scotland while US fiddler Tony DeMarco and his harmonica playing compatriot Don Meade are capped for Ireland.
High calibre guests include Lewis singer Christine Primrose and Morton’s other half, harper Alison Kinnaird, with former Highland resident singer and flautist Nuala Kennedy and melodeon player Leo McCann among the stars on the Irish side.
The material, which comes with extensive liner notes, also showcases this cross-pollination, with instrumental sets that meld together Scots and Irish tunes, or song that have other links, such as closer, The Mickey Dam, a satirical reflection of the experience of Irish dam builders in Scotland, or the more emotive Mo Bhuachail Dubh Donn, a Barra woman’s lament for a lover who has disappeared to Ireland.
Anyone familiar with Battlefield Band, in any of its incarnations, will have an idea of what to expect, tunes and songs in the traditional style played with gusto and passion. The guest performers fit in so well with the Batties’ well-oiled musical machine that the concept never feels like a gimmick or outstays its welcome despite the generous running time.
Egg ’n’ Chips
INVERNESS’S resident musical maverick Roddy MacKenzie, aka Jeep Solid, can be a bit of an acquired taste. Some of his previous releases have veered into the self-indulgently surreal.
But although Egg ‘n’ Chips retains some trademark Jeep Solid embellishments like the mix of near spoken word and falsetto vocals and eccentric titles no-one else would dare use (Spiv Capricious), and a sprinkling of Highland references – Craigellachie Hall gets a plug – these are grafted to some old style accessible funk.
Period instruments and sound techniques add to the classic feel and so soon after the loss of David Bowie, it is hard not to feel a reminder of his Philly and Motown influenced ‘70s recordings. There is even a bit of a dalliance with Disney in Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.