Uam means from me in Scottish Gaelic. That is what you hear on this recording, a very distinct point of view. Julie Fowlis is a Scot who grew up in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. She’s also an artist, musician, and thinker completely of the twenty first century.
The music she offers here is rooted and grounded in the old songs she learnt from tradition bearers while she was growing up. It is also rooted and grounded in that tradition spoken with taste and affection in a contemporary voice. Thig am bata (The boat will come) is a fast paced song with a strong but challenging beat, which she invited bodhran player Martin O’Neill to explore with her. On an old milking song, she’s joined by fellow Hebridean Mary Smith of Lewis for the singing and Phil Cunningham provides piano and accordion backing. That aforementioned song about the boat coming is a sort of murder ballad from the Hebrides. Fowlis pairs it with a like story which made its way from Ireland into American folk tradition where it is known and Wind and Rain. Fowlis and top notch Scottish singer Eddi Reader trade verses in Scottish Gaelic and English in a way which really illuminates the story of the song.
A Chiad Cheum (The First Step) is a lovely tune Fowlis and her husband, bouzouki player Eamon Doorley, composed for the wedding of a cousin. It allows the talents of Fowlis and Doorley’s frequent musical compatriots fiddler Duncan Chisholm, guitarist Tony Byrne, and bass player Ewan Vernal to come especially clear, and the two of them join in on whistle and bouzouki, respectively, as well. When Fowlis and Doorley played a festival in another Celtic area, Brittany in France, there they were asked to do a Breton song. Translated from Breton into Scottish Gaelic, the one they chose fits well in place in this collection. The title in comes over to English as I was born in the midst of the sea, an idea anyone from the western isles could easily appreciate.
There are sad songs and lively songs, ballads and working songs, songs which spring directly from the Hebrides and songs with touches of other traditions. Whether you understand Scottish Gaelic or not (there are English translations in the liner notes if you do not), you hear the sea, the land, the lives and loves of people in the songs, the wind and the weather. You hear Scotland, through the music of a gifted and original musician who is choosing to apply her gifts in service of traditional music and language.
Side note: should you have the chance to see Fowlis and her musical friends play live, take it. It is an engaging experience not to be missed. . Another side note: apologies to Gaelic speakers: this keyboard does not handle fadas well.
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