Where The Wind Blows is the second album from Elana Pira. Not unusually for a Scottish folk release it features a number of traditional Scottish and Gaelic melodies alongside familiar favourites like Francis McPeake’s ‘Wild Mountain’s Thyme’ and Tom Paxton’s ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’. It’s an album of Scottish folk with a twist, however. Hailing from Sardinia, Piras inherited her father’s love of singing from an early age and began performing professionally in Italy when young.
“I think when you begin on a path so young, it just becomes an unquestionable part of the fabric of your life and your whole being. Making music is as natural as breathing for me,” she says.
Piras moved to the UK aged 18, where she co-founded and toured with the London Bulgarian choir. It was in 2006, however, following a move to Scotland and a position at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art that her love of Scottish music really began to make itself felt. Immersing herself in the local music scene Piras became a popular fixture at festivals and released her debut album in 2010. Journey was predominantly an album of traditional Scottish music but also included songs from Ireland, Sardinia and Bulgaria.
Being visually impaired since birth, Elena believes it has enabled her to impart a very special meaning to her folk music. She also feels a particular affinity to Scots, Irish and Gaelic folk and maintains that nothing can compare to it in terms of being able to convey the beauty and hardship of a land and its people and its ability to transport both performer and audience into its melodies and narrative.
Where The Wind Blows is Elena Pira’s second album and very much continues the journey she embarked upon with her debut release – exploring and interpreting traditional Scottish music. Recorded in a shed that was repurposed as a recording studio, the project has drawn in a number of talented musicians. As the pandemic threw up the now familiar range of logistical challenges, some of the album’s collaborators also contributed their parts from similarly unconventional locations. Perseverance has its rewards, however, and we are left with an exceptional album.
With a pure clear voice, a self-evident love for the Gaelic language and an instinctive feel for interpreting the material in her own unique way, Elena Pira brings something that’s both precious and meaningful to the Scottish folk scene.
Where The Wind Blows was released 20th November 2020
The Chair are an eight-piece folk band from Orkney. Formed in 2004, Orkney Monster is the band’s third album. Based around twin fiddles, banjo, accordion, guitar, drums and bass and this album, although recorded in the studio, aims to capture some of the energy and exhilaration of their live performances and promises their unique brand of ‘Orkney Stomp’.
Do they pull it off? Certainly. In Orkney Monster the band deliver an album that’s full of zest and joie de vivre while digging deep into their island heritage. There’s reels and jigs aplenty, with a slew of original compositions from band members as well as a handful by contemporary Scottish writers and a few traditional tunes, too.
As an eight-strong outfit the band are able to really go some on those infectiously rollicking reels and the interplay between the musicians is a wonder. But there is a more sensitive side to the band, too, as we hear on tunes like the wonderfully poignant ‘Wee Davie’ written by the band’s guitarist, Gavin Firth.
Mostly instrumental, the album does also include a couple of songs. There’s a lively take on ‘Walk Beside Me’, written by bluegrass and country artist, Tim O’Brien, that the band make truly their own as well as a beautifully mellow cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Shiver Me Timbers’.
Superb playing, beautiful tunes and buzzing with energy, Orkney Monster is simply a delightful album.
Released: 4th December 2020 by Folky Gibbon Records
Kate Bush with a Bhangra band and a Celtic fiddle player – if you asked me to give my first impressions of Tricky Terrain, the new album from Reely Jiggered, that’s pretty much what sprang to mind when I put it into the CD player .
Actually, as first impressions go that’s not too far out. With the soaring vocals and frenetic fiddle-playing of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland trained Alison McNeill and the band’s output inspired by both Scottish folk and World beats, they have managed to create a unique and irresistible fusion of folk, funk, rock, pop and jazz
Now releasing their third album they have headlined a number of festivals, both in Scotland and internationally, and are past winners of the Soundwave music competition. Joining Alison McNeill on vocals and fiddle are Fiona McNeill (guitar, bodhran, backing vocals) and Scott McLean (drums), with guest musicians Stuart Taylor (keys) and Gregor McPhie (bass).
The rocking rhythms, furious fiddling and exquisite vocals aligned with those diverse beats make for an absolutely cracking album. The songs are great, too – whether it’s Alison McNeil’s own compositions exploring politics, mental health and international issues as well as the Scottish landscape and past history – or whether it’s the band’s modern take on ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which closes the album.
Fresh, vibrant and unique I’m immediately won over to ‘Reely Jiggered’ and Tricky Terrain is a superb album.
An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit.
Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. In the studio he worked with a stellar cast of musicians who had previously played alongside the likes of Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. Lightning in the Dark is the result, an album of breathtaking Americana with Celtic influences shining through. It’s a delicious fusion of styles. Dobros and banjos nestle with whistles and pipes to create something both beautiful and extraordinary – Celticana as Bregante dubbed it.
The sound is special but so, too, are the songs. Fairnie’s gift as a songwriter and easy-going but thought-provoking lyrics, many of them composed with songwriting partner and fellow poet Bob Shields, make this a standout-out album.
An absolute gem of an album. If you love Americana seek out Tom Fairnie’s Lightning In The Dark. You will not be disappointed.
Back Up To Zero is the third album from acoustic singer-songwriter duo Adam Amos & Noel Rocks. It comes after quite some gap since the first two though. Adam Amos and Noel Rocks recorded two albums together in the 1980s and toured around the UK and Europe. Their endeavours as a duo came to a premature end, however, when Amos relocated abroad. Two sell-out reunion shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 evidently encouraged them to rekindle their working partnership as a permanent set-up once more and they began working on Back Up To Zero in 2019, on Amos’s return to live in Scotland.
The album comprises eight original songs along with one traditional number and one cover. The duo (Amos guitar/vocals and Rocks guitar/banjo/vocals) say the songs are mainly drawn from their personal observations, with influences from Scotland, Ireland and North America.
They are joined by a number of guest musicians: renowned Korean born Su-a Lee (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mr McFall’s Chamber, La Banda Europa) on cello, David Paton (Pilot, Elton John, Albert Hammond) on bass and Kenny Hutchison on accordion and piano, who was also the album’s producer.
Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.
Not the bank but rather a folk trio from Newfoundland, Indulgence is the fourth album from this long-running Canadian enterprise. Formed in 1997 Atlantic Union has seen various line-up changes along the way but Sally Goddard, originally from England, has been at the heart of the trio since its inception and she brings with her one of those classic English pure folk voices that immediately make you sit up and listen.
Joining Goddard (vocals, guitar, bass, bodhran and concertina) are Dan Rubin (violin, viola, mandolin, octave mandolin, bouzouki, dulcimer, guitar and bass) and Jane Ogilvie (Celtic harp, piano and accordion). More than two years in the making Indulgence comprises nine original tracks and five covers, the latter ranging from the traditional ‘Star of the County Down’ to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Hour That The Ship Comes In’. The rich, Celtic-inspired instrumentation and lovely blend of instruments used across the album provides a fine setting for Goddard’s (and on some tracks Rubin’s) vocals.
The trio guide as through the album as follows:
“The opening track is a gentle reminder that we are not alone. The songs that follow reflect on unrequited love, loss of a loved one and memory loss. We emerge from this with a song for a beloved granddaughter, then move through pieces that share an oceanic setting: songs about transcending racism, surviving war and sailing out of St. John’s harbour on a fully rigged ship. After a piece written by Lord Byron and a nostalgic visit to Mallorca we come to a tribute to the loggers of New Brunswick who supplied masts for the British navy and a rather strange song about kayaking in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The collection concludes with a sonata inspired by Scottish themes and a Caribbean sing-along about the joys of living more simply.”
A pleasing album with some enjoyable songwriting, beautiful vocals and fine melodies, Indulgence will hopefully serve to help Atlantic Union become better known among folk listeners here in the UK. It would be well deserved.
Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences.
It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.
Not only is Jordan is a talented songwriter with a passionate soulful voice she’s succeeded in assembling a suitably talented line-up of musicians for the album. Jordan’s own guitar and bouzouki playing is complimented by a sensitive yet wondrous accompaniment of mandolin, piano, strings, whistle and percussion that help give these songs such a unique Celtic-inspired flavour.
If Celtic soul is truly a thing then ‘Send My Soul’ is surely a classic of the genre. Jordan has delivered an exquisitely appealing album here.
A simple, slightly quirky but effective idea, every year the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland (TMSA) run the Young Trad Tour project where they offer young musicians the opportunity to record an album with their contemporaries and tour their home towns. TMSA launched the project back in 2004 when the six finalists from BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician Of The Year awards were brought together to tour and make an album and its been repeated each year since.
This year’s CD features the six finalists of the 2018 competition along with the winner of the 2017 competition and the full lone-up is as follows: Hannah Rarity (vocals and 2018 winner), Charlie Stewart (fiddle and 2017 winner), Ali Levack (whistles/pipes), Rory Matheson (piano), Luc MacNally (guitar/vocals), Amy Papiransky (vocals) and David Shedden (bagpipes).
The album contains a nice mix of original material and arrangements of traditional tunes. There’s a real maturity to both the playing and the writing but one of the undoubted highlights of the album is the wonderful voice of 2018 competition winner Hannah Rarity. Rarity’s talent had already come to my notice when I reviewed her debut release for the sadly now-defunct fRoots magazine back in 2017. It’s certainly encouraging to see her getting the recognition she deserves, not that the CD is merely a showcase for the winner. There’s some fine fiddle playing and bagpipes on this album and it is impressive to see this ad-hoc ensemble coming together with something as cohesive as this.
A wonderfully creative project and one that has delivered a fine album.
Na-Mara have built a formidable reputation for bringing their translations of songs from the Breton, French and Quebecois traditions to English-speaking audiences, alongside their original and captivating interpretation tunes from the Celtic regions of Spain and France. There’s more to them than that, of course, and their repertoire has always included self-composed material written in the style of the folk tradition.
With Sisters & Brothers Na-Mara’s Rob Garcia and Paul McNamara return with a fine mix of each of these three elements. The self-penned title track gives a nod to the proud history of songs about economic injustices in the past while providing us with a rallying call for the present: “What was done to our fathers and brothers is now being done to our sisters and brothers.” We also have new translations of songs from France and Quebec, such as long-lost soldier/returning sweetheart story The Recompense, and there is an elegant tune-set, including the lovely An Dro from a collection of Breton folk tunes.
Garcia’s mandolin and McNamara’s guitar work and gentle, sincere vocals give the duo their trademark sound and it’s clear throughout the album there is no shortage of inspiration for new material.
Na-Mara continue to make a vital and distinctive contribution to the UK folk scene and Sisters & Brothers is another highly-accomplished offering.
This review was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of fRoots magazine
Celtic-influenced melodies, lush instrumentation and pure yet ever-so-sensual vocals serve to make Hours Awake a highly attractive debut album from the York-based singer songwriter. The album collects together songs that Croft has been creating over a three-year period between 2014, when she first started writing, and 2017.
Only Dreams, which was also released as Croft’s debut single back in 2017, is one of the standout tracks on the album. Beautifully atmospheric instrumentation combines with powerful lyrics and captivating vocals in a Sandy-Denny-meets-Kate-Bush sort of way and showcases Croft’s considerable vocal range. Opening track, the moody and haunting Old Climbing Tree is another stunner. In addition to Croft, herself, on acoustic guitar a group of talented musicians contribute to making this album something special. The playing of Emlyn Vaughan on double bass, Rachel Brown on cello and Emily Lawler is particularly noteworthy.
Nicely packaged and beautifully illustrated the inside cover-art features some of Croft’s own striking black and white pen and ink work.
The album is not quite perfect. Some slightly weird production mars the second track Hear Me somewhat and the final track Can’t Replace Your Perfect, a big, soulful, gospel-tinged number stands up perfectly well on its own and certainly helps demonstrates the vocalist’s versatility but seems a little out of place here. Nonetheless, Hours Awake is a beautifully impressive debut from a talented vocalist, musician and songwriter.