Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rallion - "One For Sorrow"

Rallion’s sophomore release, One For Sorrow, is a dazzling display of musicality by the Scotland-based traditional folk quartet. The members of Rallion are prolific performers and the skills honed on stages around the world shine on this recording. Featuring a mix of traditional songs and mostly original tunes, One For Sorrow has a deliciously exciting feel.

Marieke McBean’s rich alto marries perfectly with the material, whether conveying the dark humor of “The Astrologer,” the poignancy of “Lassie Lie Near Me,” or the good cheer of the Dutch drinking song “Wat Zullen We Drinken” (What Will We Drink). The instrumentation accompanying each song is truly splendid, creating an aural luxuriance that reaches the listener on all levels.

The crème de la crème of One For Sorrow, however, are the tunes, the majority composed by the group’s tunesmiths: Stevie Lawrence, Fiona Cuthill and Andrew Lyons. Not only are the compositions exquisite, their execution is phenomenal. All of the members of Rallion are multi-instrumentalists, lending an incredible depth and texture to each piece. The highlights are “Askival,” an energetic set of tunes by Andrew, “Fez,” an exotically flavored set by Fiona and Stevie, and, my personal favorite, “Waiting For Dawn,” a gorgeous slow tune by Fiona.

One For Sorrow is a brilliant album that will leave you hungering for more.

To learn more about Rallion, visit their official website or their MySpace page.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Catherine Fraser, Duncan Smith - "Rhymes & Reasons"

Frequently hailed as one of Australia’s finest Scottish fiddlers, Catherine Fraser shows why she’s earned that title on Rhymes & Reasons, her fourth album with pianist Duncan Smith. There is a certain exuberance, a joie de vivre coursing through each note and phrase that lifts this album into the extraordinary. Produced by Laura Risk and featuring guests Hanneke Cassel on fiddle, Tony McManus on guitar, Natalie Haas on cello and Eric Breton on percussion, Rhymes & Reasons is a well-rounded collection of traditional and contemporary slow airs, jigs, reels and strathspeys.

Though all of the tunes are worthy of mention, there are several exceptional tracks. “Rothiemurchus Rant/Calum Breugach/Donald McLeod’s Reel/Donald Don of Bohunting” features the rant played as a gorgeous slow air, then increases in speed as it moves into the second strathspey and the reels. Catherine is equally expressive on two original slow airs: “The Kirrie Gem” and “Dancing with George.” The first tune showcases Natalie Haas’ exquisite playing and the latter was written for Catherine’s horse, King George IV.

“O Let Me In this Ae Night” is a delightful arrangement of two versions of the same tune; first as a slow air and then as a reel. The album closes with “Raoghull agus Cairistine,” an old Scots Gaelic tune given a very contemporary treatment, replete with bass synth, hand percussion and wisps of ethereal vocals. It’s a spectacular ending to a fantastic recording.

Rhymes & Reasons is definitely one of my top ten album choices for 2009.

To learn more about Catherine and her music, visit her official website or her MySpace page.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Yvonne Lyon - "Fearless"

Scottish singer-songwriter Yvonne Lyon left teaching to pursue a full-time career as a musician and that leap of faith has paid off on Fearless, her second full length recording. Yvonne delivers her brilliantly-crafted songs in a gorgeous voice full of intimacy and emotion. The effect is soothing, heartwarming and inviting. While most of the album is in the acoustic/folk vein, Yvonne proves she’s able to rock out with numbers like “Subscribe” and “Mariana”. An accomplished musician herself, she is joined by the likes of David Lyon, Chris Stout, Graeme Duffin and others to create the rich tapestry her songs are built upon.

On the surface, Yvonne’s lyrics are engaging and intimate, sweet and poignant. Yet there is a deeper story here. Though her music is rarely labeled “Christian”, Yvonne is no stranger to the Christian music scene and her Faith-centered lyrics are just as welcome in the church as on the secular stage. “Mariana” is a lovely dedication to a woman able to maintain her faith in the face of hardship and grief. In “Run To” there’s the realization that, even though we stumble and fall due to our own folly, God is still there. My personal favorites are the beautifully poignant “Come”, written for a loved one who has passed on, incorporating Matthew 11:28 as the chorus, and “Love”, a gorgeous song about the true definitions of love.

Fearless is an uplifting celebration of faith, love and peace and Yvonne’s heartfelt sincerity reaches deep into the listener.

To learn more about Yvonne, visit her official website or her MySpace page.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Kim Edgar - "butterflies and broken glass"

On butterflies and broken glass, Kim Edgar has moved into very different territory from her previous releases. Gone is the jazzy lounge sound, replaced by more contemporary pop/folk stylings. This is definitely a more mature album and readily establishes Kim as a force to be reckoned with on the Scottish singer/songwriter scene

butterflies also sees a shift in Kim’s songwriting style. Her lyrics are still well-crafted and moving, but they aren’t quite as intimate as earlier songs, as though the perspective is from a step back instead of right there in the grit with her. In general, her songwriting skills have become much tighter, due, I think, to her experiences in 2006’s Burnsong Songhouse project. There she worked side-by-side with the likes of Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, King Creosote, MC Soom T and others. Three of the ten tracks were co-written with members of that group

The thing that has impressed me the most about butterflies is the music. Kim has composed some exceptional pieces that really form the fabric of each song. One feels the utter intensity of the situation in “Scissors, Paper, Stone,” a dramatic piece about domestic violence, as well as the lighter nostalgia that imbues “Red”. This album is full of depth and texture and excellently showcases her skills as a composer. Additionally, she is backed by a stellar cast of musicians, most of whom happen to be Karine Polwart’s band, including Karine herself. Their musical abilities and professionalism truly help set this recording apart.

Kim has a gorgeous, melodious voice and she displays a greater range than on her earlier works. My only wish here is that her voice carried a bit more of the emotion often heard in her live performances. However, this is a minor thing, as the quality throughout is outstanding. My favorite tracks are “Just Outside Your Door,” the aforementioned “Scissors, Paper, Stone,” and “House on the Hill,” co-written with Emma Pollock.

Overall, butterflies and broken glass is a brilliant recording and I’m keenly awaiting future projects.

To learn more about Kim and her music, visit her MySpace page or her official website.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Olov Johansson & Catriona McKay - Foogy

Olov Johansson and Catriona McKay have teamed up to create an album that is big, bold and bursting with amazing sound. Johansson’s nyckelharpa and McKay’s harp complement each other perfectly on this thirteen-track collection of primarily original compositions. Fresh, inventive arrangements give both artists the opportunity to show the full character of their instruments.

Though I was impressed with the wonderful melody lines, I was more impressed by the supporting roles each was able to play. It is here that the full range of the instruments can truly be appreciated, from soulful droning to bold, percussive rhythms. Whether playing lead or support, McKay and Johansson’s mastery never lets the listener forget that there are two instruments present.

The opening track “1st Class to Glasgow” is delightfully upbeat and gives a good taste of the overall feel of Foogy. Both artists excel on rapid-fire runs and there are plenty found throughout, especially on “Rain/Ekoln,” “In The Castle,” and “The Foogy Set.” Equally capable at the other end of the spectrum, McKay and Johansson deliver an achingly beautiful performance on “The Harper’s Dismissal.”

Foogy is exciting, contemporary and a definite breath of fresh air. I sincerely hope Johansson and McKay continue to collaborate on future projects.

This review is also published on

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lauren MacColl - Strewn With Ribbons

Scottish fiddler Lauren MacColl's sophomore release, Strewn With Ribbons, is an eleven-track collection of original compositions and traditional tunes from the Highland Collections. Lauren is soundly supported by band members Barry Reid on guitar and Mhairi Hall on piano, with guest appearances by Donald Shaw on accordion and harmonium, Su-a Lee on cello, and Chris Stout on viola.

The album opens with "Oigfhear A Chuil Duinn (Young Man of the Brown Hair)," which is the surprise track of the album. It begins with Lauren's characteristic crystalline playing, but as it moves into the driving "Poolachrie," the style becomes grittier and more impassioned, to fantastic effect.

Lauren delivers brilliantly energetic performances on the strathspeys, reels and jigs found here, especially on "The Prophet," "Happy Hours," and "Highland Wedding," but the true gems of this album are the slow airs. There are few Highland fiddlers who do them better. Not only is her playing exquisitely poignant, but the arrangements give Strewn With Ribbons a depth and maturity that are simply stunning.

The sonorous tones of Su-a Lee's cello on "'S Trom Trom A Tha Mi (Sad, Sad Am I)" provide a perfect counterpoint to the melancholy of Lauren's fiddle, while the achingly beautiful "Lament for Mr. Thomas Grant, of Glen Elgin" features a tender interplay between fiddle and viola. The album closes with the mournful "Hugh Allan," performed solely by Lauren. The stark emotion of the piece lingers long after the music ends.

Strewn With Ribbons is a gorgeous journey from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

This review is also published on

Beoga - The Incident

Irish group Beoga delivers a rollicking romp across genres on The Incident, their third album. Though the group refuses to detail the event that inspired the title track, this album is a lively and entertaining mix of jigs, reels, polkas and songs filtered through the quirky minds of the band.

Beoga sets the tone with "Lamped," a tune that swerves between pulsing and sedate before launching into a high-octane finish, complete with party sirens. Equally exciting is the Klezmer-flavored "The Flying Golf Club" set, which begins with "The Jewish Polka" and ends with a tune inspired by an amusement park mishap. Lest one thinks Beoga is all high energy, the band performs a lovely rendition of Ciaran O'Grady's "The Bellevue Waltz."

Niamh Dunne gives stellar vocal performances on the gospel number "Strange Things," done in a ragtime style, and the amusing "On The Way," which features the guest vocals of Joe Echo (Ciaran Gribbin) and a gentle Calypso beat.

The Incident is a delightful, feel-good album and confirms Beoga's place as a powerhouse in the Irish traditional scene.

This review is also published on