The Music of Scotland
Menu of Reviews


Capercaille
Sidewaulk
Green Linnet

Scots Gaelic is a beautiful language. Carried on the voice of Hebridean singer Karen Matheson it conveys meanings that mere translation fall short of describing. There is sheer power in the call and response between her soaring voice and the booming male chorus on the opening cut, a rare traditional "waulking" song, sung while shrinking wool. There are also a pair of vocals for dancing in the "purit a beul" style (literally, "mouth music"), "The Russett Haired Daughter" and "Open The Door." The instrumentals are equal to the task, as well-fiddles, whistles, bouzouki and bodhran team up with bass, accordion and guitars and create a furor that I'd defy any electric band to keep pace with on "The Turnpike" and the medley "The Sidewaulk Reels." Last is the beautiful ballad of emigration, "Oh, My Country," a lament to leaving Scotland, where Matheson's rich voice wrings your heart with the despair of poverty and loneliness that follows the escape to the new world. - CF


Mouth Music
Mo-Di
Rykodisc

We live on a small planet. Ethiopia and Edinburgh are only fiber-optic nano-seconds apart. Shortwave and FM bring techno to Tanzania and taarab to Tulsa. The sound of the accordion and the djembe are as familiar as the beat-box and the synthesizer. A new world is making new music. Scotland's Mouth Music are a part of the logical progression of modern assimilation, soaking up the sounds of the world and reforming them into something distinctly local. This year's model, Mo-Di, is also an major change for what was a Gaelic influenced folk-pop duo. Now a quintet, they are relying less on the ethno-centric quality of old Gaelic songs and incorporating many languages and many styles into what is, first and foremost (according to composer/arranger Martin Swan) dance music. Bass, drums, guitars, keyboards and lots of carbon based percussion augment the programs and samples of the original Mouth Music concept, and even the predominantly electro-composed pieces have real life. With the addition of Michaela Rowan and Jackie Joyce (it took two great new voices to replace Talitha McKenzie!), they embark on a new direction, as a band rather than a "project." It is the live feel of Mo-Di and the broader scope of the album that appealed to me even on the first listening. It raises them above the ghetto-ized folk/world scene, and thrusts them into the company of techno, rock and soul. This is no sterile, hit-seeking missile, but an intelligent, worldly wise groove, quoting familiar themes from Africa, Europe and Asia and reinventing them as Scots pop. Recommended listening: "Milking The Cow" (but watch out the animal rights folks!), the crank-up-the-bass groove of "Maudit," and the lush density of "Hoireann O."


Robert Mathieson
The Big Birl
Lismour / Scotland

Pipe Major Robert Mathieson offers a recording of Highland pipes and Shepherd's new small pipes on The Big Birl. It's a mixed bag of great folk traditions and over synthesized arrangements for the Enya crowd. After a brief solo on the small pipes, the opener turns into one of those swooshy white noise splashes so popular in the pop-Celtic scene these days. But then he hits a set of jigs with a jazzy piano (Dave Milligan) and a band of concertina (Simon Thoumire), whistles (Dougie Pincock) and varied percussion that, while outside of the tradition, is great fun and damn good music. There are some top-notch, straight rootsy moments, a feeble attempt at calypso, some gorgeous slow airs and a bit of an over emphasis on electronics for their own sake. It's a mixed bag, but the hits outweigh the misses and there's enough experimenting that works to make it worth the money. - CF
(Visit the
bagpipe section of RootsWorld for some sound samples of a number of pipers. )


DICK GAUGHAN
Sail On
Appleseed (folkradicl@aol.com)

It's been too damn long since the American coast has had a Gaughan record wash ashore, so it's a welcome situation that a new record label has taken up the cause. Gaughan is one of Scotland's most literate and well-spoken voices, an acerbic political singer, a solid guitarist, and an historian of all things Scots. The depth of his music is stunning, as he chooses known contemporary songwriters like Richard Thompson ("1952 Vincent Black Lightning") and Michael Murphy ("Geronimo's Cadillac"), mixes in great Scot writers like Hamish Henderson (the stunning "The freedom Come-All-Ye") and his own biting songs like "No Cause For Alarm," a call to social reform in this age of unreason. The recording moves from rock-pop anthems like Allan Taylor's "Land Of The North Wind" to surprising folk arrangements like the harp and guitar of "Ruby Tuesday." But the center of the record is Gaughan, his voice, his delivery, his attitude. He can recreate the most surprising songs and make them his own, rooted in his own history like they were born there. A potent voice of the times emanates from Dick Gaughan, once again. - CF


New Celeste
It's A New Day
IONA

New Celeste run the gamut of contemporary Scottish sounds on their latest release. The influence of dance culture is becoming much more pronounced in Scottish folk projects, with acts such as Shooglenifty, Talitha MacKenzie, the Peatbog Faeries, Simon Thoumire and Fergus MacKenzie, and Paul Mounsey all utilizing percolating club-house rhythms in their music.

It's A New Day is at its best when those rhythms are absent. True, there is an excitement to the meeting of cutting-edge technology and ancient instruments; the setting of "Stumblin' & Stottin'" relies on this juxtaposition when the pipes kick in. Yet wherever the computer-thumping beats take over, New Celeste sound oddly out of fashion. They're no Scottish techno act; the disco rhythms aren't inventive enough, so that quite a few tracks sound immediately dated. Nonetheless, I find the effort oddly charming and not all of the tunes meet with such treatment -- "70 Years/The Caber" has some fine pipe, fiddle, whistle, and percussion work. New Celeste cook solidly enough on the instrumentals, even adding in a jazz/rock element to the dance tracks.

The band's finest moments are the songs. Iain Fergus has a wonderfully smooth, enjoyable voice and the band hits fine folk-rock territory on tracks such as "The Banks of Ayr," Robert Burns' "The Posie/Scottish Brawl," and "Davie and Jeannie." New Celeste is clearly capable of putting all the pieces together. All of which means that "It's A New Day" really grows on you with repeated listenings. New Celeste might not be everyone's cup of tea just yet, but this is a pleasant enough brew for now. - LB


The band that has most defined our American concept of modern Scottish folk music is probably BATTLEFIELD BAND. On Across The Borders (Temple Records, Scotland, via Rounder) this quartet is captured live this time out in a set roaring numbers on bagpipes, fiddles, guitar, flutes and keyboards recorded at Queen's Hall in Edinburgh and distills their style nicely. But the extra spice is added by a host of guest artists. Long time mate Alison Kinaird joins them on Scottish harp. Legendary County Sligo flautist Seamus Tansey plays off Battlefield wind-man Iain MacDonald in a brilliant duet of reels. Yorkshire singer Kate Rusby and California bagpiper Eric Rigler also make showings. Perhaps the most curious moment in the show is the battle of the bands between the Battlefield boys and Glasgow country rockers The Radio Sweethearts (a side project of BB member John McCusker), clearly won by the country bagpiping solo that punctuates the last verses. Another live one from the Battlefield Band has been long overdue, but as always, worth the wait. - CF (sound sample available)


The band that has most defined our American concept of modern Scottish folk music is probably BATTLEFIELD BAND. On Across The Borders (Temple Records, Scotland, via Rounder) this quartet is captured live this time out in a set roaring numbers on bagpipes, fiddles, guitar, flutes and keyboards recorded at Queen's Hall in Edinburgh and distills their style nicely. But the extra spice is added by a host of guest artists. Long time mate Alison Kinaird joins them on Scottish harp. Legendary County Sligo flautist Seamus Tansey plays off Battlefield wind-man Iain MacDonald in a brilliant duet of reels. Yorkshire singer Kate Rusby and California bagpiper Eric Rigler also make showings. Perhaps the most curious moment in the show is the battle of the bands between the Battlefield boys and Glasgow country rockers The Radio Sweethearts (a side project of BB member John McCusker), clearly won by the country bagpiping solo that punctuates the last verses. Another live one from the Battlefield Band has been long overdue, but as always, worth the wait. - CF (sound sample available)



Back to the top


return to rootsworld Will You Subscribe?

All contents are copyright RootsWorld 1998. Permission to use this content must be procured from RootsWorld and the writers.