Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Scotland's Music: Julie Fowlis: Alterum

Alterum: the music begins with a woman’s plea to her sister for help. In the stories handed down on the Hebridean island of Barra from which the song comes, it is said that the woman who composed the song was being held prisoner in a fairy mound.

Julie Fowlis sings this song, A Phiuthrag ‘s a Phiuthar, in Scottish Gaelic. She is known for that, both for her gifts in the arranging and singing of songs from past and present, and her intelligence and skill in seeking out and choosing such songs.

The album Alterum began for her as a project exploring Gaelic songs of the otherworld, Fowlis writes in her sleeve notes. There are stories of fairies and water horses, legends and myth, unexplained natural events, and places that may be real or not. As she explored and expanded this idea into choosing songs for recording, for the first time on an album of her own, Fowlis decided to include songs in English as well, and a song which includes both Gaelic and Galician lyrics, too.

She has sung in English and in other languages on different projects (for the Disney/Pixar film Brave, for instance). When preparing her own albums, though, Fowlis had never felt any particular pull to include songs in English -- until this time. Woven as they are into the theme of otherworld, Go Your Way by Annie Briggs and Windward Away by Archie Fisher offer, in different yet related ways, explorations of love, mystery, and time.

That could be said of each of the songs on the album, and indeed the sequence of all the songs played out as Fowlis has set them. There’s that call for help from a fairy hill to begin things. Gilllebride MacMillan joins in on Camariñas, a traditional Galician song which brings a ray of sunlight to the proceedings, as does the lively combination of two pieces of mouth music, Fear a’ bhrochain and Dòmhnall Bin.

There is an indeed otherworldly story and sound to Dh’èirich mi moch, b’fheàrr nach d’ dh’èirich (I arose early, would that I hadn’t). It is a story of legend entwined a story of grief and change.

There is that song of lost love, Go Your Way, a seal song, another rather mysterious love song in Gaelic called Dh’èirich mi moch madainn cheòthar ( I arose early on a misty morning). There are several other songs in Gaelic, and there is Windward Away, which holds enough mystery for several stories all on its own.

Cearcall mun Ghealaich(Circle about the Moon) with words by Scottish writer Catriona Montgomery which Fowlis has put to music closes things out. Speaking an introduction in English, Fowlis then sings in Gaelic. Both, as she remarks in her sleeve notes, play out the idea that “When you see a circle around the moon, it is often a warning of change – usually not for the better.”

Fowlis sings each of these songs with intelligence and grace. You needn’t know Scottish Gaelic to appreciate the power of emotion and story she brings to this well thought out and well sequenced collection. She is well supported too: Eamon Doorley on bouzouki and other instruments, Donald Shaw on piano and harmonium, Tony Byrne on guitar, Ewan Vernal on double bass, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, and Su-a Lee on cello are among those who add their instrumental gifts. In addition to Gillebride MacMillan (if you are thinking his name sounds familiar, you might be recalling that he appeared as the bard in Outlander ), award winning singers Mary Chapin Carpenter from the US and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh from Ireland add harmonies on several tracks.

Alterum: that title is a word which may mean difference, change, other. Scottish Gaelic is a language not many speak; legend and mystery of the Celtic world (any world, for that matter) are paths not many tread through music or in other arts. Along the way through the music she has chosen for Alterum, Julie Fowlis leads her listeners on a meditative, spirit infused, and spiritual journey which draws on story, language, voice, and music.

Photographs of Julie Fowlis in concert at City Halls during Celtic Connections 2018, made with permission of the artist, the venue, and the festival. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Julie Fowlis: Every Story/Gach Sguel
Scotland’s Music: Nicola Benedetti: Homecoming on which Julie Fowlis appears as a guest
Ireland;s Music: Cara Dillon: Wanderer
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and Julie Fowlis: Dual

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ireland's Music: Murieann Nic Amhlaoibh: Foxglove & Fuschia

As she was planning the project which would become her album Foxglove & Fuschia, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh decided she wanted the music to be a bit like what she might do if she were planning for a gig in a pub near her home in Corca Duibhne, the Dingle peninsula, in the west of Ireland. It’s a situation she knows well, as she grew up in Dingle, surrounded by music and going to sessions from a young age.

As ancient stones and worn paths through mountain and along coast attest, people have been calling the Dingle peninsula in the west of Ireland home for thousands upon thousands of years. Rain and mist and wind, mountain and sea meet in a landscapes that suggests and evokes history and story.

Those stories are often told, shared, and forged through music.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh has studied in Dublin, taught in LImerick, and traveled the world with her music. For thirteen years she was lead singer and flute player with the top Irish band Danu. I came time, though, to return to to her native west Kerry, to live again in the Irish speaking region of the far west of Dingle where she herself had grown up and begun her life in music,

She also thought at the time that stepping away from Danu might be the end of her public career as a musician. It wasn’t.

A sure and steady vision of where she is and what she wishes to create as an artist is at the heart of Foxglove & Fuschia, which is Nic Amhlaoibh’s third solo album. There are songs in English and in Irish, and a few well chosen tune sets too.

Some of the music has its origin in west Kerry. Other songs and stories make their way in from father afield. They all, though, relate in some way to that life of water and mist, music and mountain and story found in Dingle.

There is the gentle joy of word and lyric in Muirisin Deas is Nora, a song from The Great Blasket Island, which lies just to the west of the tip of Dingle. It is about a couple who have been married a long time and are still very much in love. The words in Irish are from a traditional poem, set to a new melody by guitarist Gerry O’ Beirne. O’Beirne, who often plays with Nic Amhloaibh when she goes on the road with her music, supports her on the song for the recording.He also wrote the image filled song Where Foxglove, from which Nic Amhlaoibh drew the title for the recording.

For most pieces on Foxglove & Fuschia, there are just one two musicians joining Nic Amhlaoibh. That still leaves good scope for family and friends to sit in, though: there’s a set of reels with Nic Amhlaoibh’s husband Billy Mag Fhlionn on bouzouki and a friend from her days with Danu, Donnchadh Gough, on bodhran, and on a set of polkas with her father, Feargal MacAmhlaoibh, as the fiddler, and with longtime friends, Padraig O se on accordion and Donough Hennessey on guitars. Donal O’Connor, Seamus Begley, Pauline Sclanlon. Eilis Kennedy and John McSherry are among those who sit in on various tracks, too.

It is Nic Amhlaoibh’s voice and vision which define what’s happening on the album, though. Nowhere is that more evident than on The Final Trawl, a song of the sea by Scotland’s Archie Fisher. As part of her working co presenting the television programme Port for BBC Alba with Scottish singer Julie Fowlis, Nic Amhlaoibh had the chance to meet and sing with Fisher, who wrote the song with ideas and images drawn from his experience of seafaring.

Another song that weaves together the album’s ideas is Bean Dubh an Ghleanna. It is Nic Amhlaoibh says, one of the big songs which to her mind make up the classical tradition of Ireland’s folk music. Nic Amhlaoibh grew up in Dingle, in the Gaeltacht, where, she points out, you don’t actually study the traditional style of sean nos, you’re given the words and the melody and expected to find your own way into them.

Indeed, so she has, through each of the tracks on the recording. There are eleven of them, and each invites repeated listening. Tune, song, and story shared in ways which honor tradition and create it anew in one of Ireland’s most interesting and creative voices: this is what you will find on Foxglove & Fuschia.

Photographs of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and friends in concert at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland, made by permission. Thank you for respecting copyright

You may also wish to see
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh & Julie Fowlis: Dual
Musireann Nic Amhlaoibh: The Small Hours
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s web site
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind & Rain

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Ireland's Music: Aine Minogue: In the Name of Stillness

Music is framed in silence. There’s a saying that as a painter paints on canvas. so a musician paints on silence.

Silence and stillness often go together. They are not the same thing, though. In both silence and stillness, there is music.

Music partners often with dance, and with other sorts of movement -- clapping, stamping feet, and such. Yet music, in both creation and listening, may also be framed in stillness.

Aine Minogue has called her most recent album In the Name of Stillness.

Minogue’s instrument is the harp. She is from Ireland, born in County Tipperary and with a master’s degree in traditional Irish harp performance from the University of Limerick. She has been resident in the United Staes, in New England, for some time.

You may hear the landscapes of both places in the nine instrumental and one vocal track on the album. They are all original compositions. Titles include Sitting Pilgrimage, Quiet Absence, Chant of Eternity, and Home of Belonging. In the Name of Stillness, Minogue’s fourteenth recording, is the second in a series she is calling Celtic Meditation Music. “Whether it’s used in meditation or contemplation,” Minogue says, “stillness helps to open or create more space for ‘something else to come in’ … more peace, clarity, balance, serenity, perspective. For me, stillness says it all.” 

Each piece, and the album taken as a whole, does invite reflection, and coming to a place of stillness. Music and the spaces between the notes blend into each other and lead the listener on a journey of spirit, and indeed, hope. Minogue’s harp leads the way, in quiet conversation with. on occasion, guitar, cello, oboe, clarinet, and keyboards.

In the sleeve notes which accompany the recording, Minogue has chosen words to go along with each track, which, she says, may be helpful to think about in establishing the mood of each piece. These include ideas from sources ranging from Wendell Berry to Thomas Merton to Chief White Eagle.

In the series of videos created to go along with the music (one of them is below) images and these words offer additional material for reflection. Each composition, Minogue says, is a "combination of blessing, community, ritual, and intention,” all things that are integral to Celtic spirituality and tradition. Silence which frames lines and notes of music is a vital part of composition and communication of musical ideas; one might almost say that Minogue’s work leads to contemplation of silence within the notes as well. Take a listen.

You may find out more at Aine Minogue’s web site.

You may also wish to see
Music for Winter’s Changes at Wandering Educaotrs, which includes a video of another track from In the Name of Stillness
Winter Through a Musician’s Eyes, at Perceptive Travel
Music and Mystery: A Conversation with Carrie Newcomer
Ireland’s Music: Cara Dillon: Wanderer

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ireland's Music: Cara Dillon: Wanderer

Cara Dillon comes from Dungiven, a small town in Country Derry in Northern Ireland. Growing up, there was music in her family, and in the town, That turned out to be Dillon’s calling. It has, over the years, taken her into a range of music experiences and also taken her across the world in the sharing of her music. It seems natural that her most recent album would be called Wanderer.

It is not the album Dillon and her musical partner and husband, Sam Lakeman, set out to make at this point in time. They were working on a different project, when, Dillon explains, songs from Derry, many she’s known since her early years, kept coming to her mind. She’d sing them while working about the house or preparing meals for the family at their home in the west country of England. “Sam would come through the door and say ‘What song is that? That’s a good song --let’s record it!’ ” Dillon says.

The couple decided to keep the production of the ten tracks stripped back and spare. There are a few guests -- Kris Drever, John Smith, Justin Adams, Niall Murphy, and Ben Nicholls-- tastefully deployed to enhance the feeling of space, landscape, and journey in the songs. Dillon sings with a storyteller’s grace; Lakeman’s piano and acoustic guitar work quietly to enhance the dialogue among melody, idea, and voice.

There are seven traditional songs, two Dillon/Lakeman originals, and a cover of Shaun Davey’s Dubdhara. In sharing the songs, Dillon and Lakeman create a fine balance between sadness in leaving and warmth of connection with well loved people and places. Derry, which is the big town for the region of Dillon’s homeplace, is very present both directly and indirectly in the songs.

“Derry has seen so much, it’s like the walls can speak,” Dillon says. “It’s one of those places that’s quite magical, when you start to read and hear about all that’s happened there, but the most wonderful thing is that people are so proud of their culture, because it’s been threatened for such a long time, so now there’s this lovely tradition where people have passed songs along with great passion.”

Some of those threats she alludes to were political; Derry is very near the border between the Republic of Ireland and the North, which long before official partition of the two countries was a flashpoint for strife. Derry was also a major emigration port for centuries. That’s not only in the distant past, either; Dillon’s mother told her a story from her own childhood about a relative who was emigrating and slipped quietly out the door unseen during his farewell party, and the sadness that came over the whole house when people understood that he had taken his leave. That story stayed with Dillon and is the basis for The Leaving Song.

The dew’s on the grass
We’ve finished the glass
The dawn’s on it’s way, now
But my son leaves today
God help me I pray
God help me i pray

Slip out the door, love
But don’t say goodbye
Just take one last look at this
Northwestern sky

“I’m a mother myself now,” Dillon says, “ and so I can imagine the pain they must have felt.”

That points to one of the gifts Dillon and Lakeman share through the songs on Wanderer, though: that sadness can be shared and hope can heal. You could hear The Tern and the Swallow as a lament, which in some ways it is. If you’re far from from your native land, especially if that land is Ireland, it may have you wanting to return right away. It is also, however, a song filled with acceptance and hope. So is the rather more upbeat song The Banks of the Foyle, which forsees a happy ending of a life in Derry for lovers separated for a time. Both Sides the Tweed is a classic song of wishing for freedom and reconciliation, which has often been recorded. Dillon and Lakeman put their own own stamp on it in the spare version they create, while remaining very true to the song.

“We always try to keep the song at the forefront of what we do, myself and Sam,” Dillon says, “because we both have such a great respect for the tradition. The way we describe it to each other at times is that it’s like finding a really beautiful gemstone and trying to find the right setting for it.”

They have done that for the songs that they have chosen for Wanderer. From the returning home of The Tern and the Swallow through to the setting out on a journey of Dubdhara, it is a journey well worth the taking with them. Explore The Wanderer more than once: each listen will reveal new facets of those gems and their settings.

Concert photographs made at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, with permission of the artists, the festival, and the venue.

You may also wish to see
Ireland’s Music: Cara Dillon: A Thousand Hearts
Autumn: Music of Harvest and Home at Wandering Educators
Music for a Winter’s Eve at Wandering Educators
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind & Rain

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Music of Winter: Hope, Faith, and Frames -- Songs from Emily Smith and Carrie Newcomer

Advent: it is a time of preparation, reflection, of turning of season. At times those things -- the silence, the stillness, the preparing of hearts and souls and minds for the miracle of Christmas -- is lost or at least pushed aside by the rush of day to day life and concerns.

Yet, one of the big lessons of Advent, and of winter, for that matter, is the persistence of hope. Faith and hope at times seem at odds. At other times it is clear they are interwoven. Whatever your faith, whether Advent on the calendar forms part of it or not, this is a season for seeing beyond the tinsel and the lights -- and for seeing the lights and the tinsel as pointers to and reminders of hope.

That is an idea Emily Smith explores in her song Find Hope. You may find it, and other excellent songs, on her album Songs for Christmas.

It is an opportunity to consider how we frame things, at Christmas and through the year, too. That is an idea Carrie Newcomer muses on in her song A Shovel is a Prayer. You may find the song on her album called Live at the Burskirk Chumley Theater..

You may also wish to see
Emily Smith: Echoes
Candle in the Window
Songs of Hope
Music for the Heart of Winter: Cathie Ryan
Music and Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Travels in Music: Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, and Hanneke Cassel

Ports of Call is an appropriate name for a recording by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. Both their personal histories and their work as a duo include many points of the compass.

Fraser is a fiddle player, composer, and master teacher, a native of Scotland who has been long resident in California. Haas, whose instrument is the cello, grew up in California, studied in New York, lived for some years in Quebec, and is based in the Boston area.

That all comes into play through the music they have chosen and composed for Ports of Call. They explore tunes from Sweden, Norway, Galicia, Scotland, Finland, and France. There are original compositions by both of them, as well.

The Silver and Stuff set includes the title tune, a Norwegian bridal march, as well as a Swedish polska and an Norwegian hailing. A departure, you might think, for a pair best known for their interpretations and compositions of the music of Scotland? There are Celtic connections through long history of trade and travel between the Celtic lands and the Nordic ones, though, and Fraser and Haas are both always adventurous travelers across the world of music as well. The march into dance melodies and and then into another sort of dance in will have dancers twirling in your imagination. The music works both in idea and in melody.

That is also true of the reflective piece Walzska for Su-a, which Haas composed for friend and fellow cellist Su-a Lee while Lee was on a visit to Montreal. There’s a hint of love for the dark tones of Nordic cello in this piece, as well as, just maybe, a trace of Quebecois dance.

Lively melodies fill the Keeping Up with Christine set, which comprises a tune Fraser wrote while in Adelaide, Australia, and named for that city. The second tune honors Fraser’s sister, who, Fraser writes in the album’s notes, “has achieved so much as a leader and instigator in the field of education and beyond.”

It is to the familiar place of Scotland they return for the Freedom Come All Ye set, in which that well known song of political comment by Hamish Henderson is imagined anew as an instrumental piece, and paired with an original jig by Haas.

There are more adventures in music to be found on Ports of Call, all of them part of the continuing conversation Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas create with their instruments. They chose these pieces to convey stories both original and traditional, which they do with understanding, clarity, and grace.

Hanneke Cassel knows well how to bring the qualities of clarity, understanding, and grace to her music, as well. A native of the US west coast, Cassel began her fiddling days in western swing. Before long, though, she was drawn into the music of Scotland. One of her teachers along her way into the tunes of Scotland and other Celtic musics was Alasdair Fraser.

Long a resident of the Boston area, Cassel has chosen to call her most recent recording Trip to Walden Pond. There’s a personal connection to that place for Cassel, and there are tunes on the album that connect to Kenya, China, Cape Breton, Scotland, and other places too. Cassel loves to compose tunes, and she also loves the work and the people of Many Hopes. That is a place in Kenya which, as she explains in her notes for the album, “rescues children from poverty and abuse, educating them to lead the next generation with justice and love.” To assist in raising funds to support Many Hopes, Cassel offered to compose tunes in return for donations. She asked donors to tell her their stories. Many of the tunes for Trip to Walden Pond arose from those stories.

Trip to Walden Pond is an adventure in contemporary Scottish American music. Cassel is known as much for her joyful personality and quick wit as she is for her thoughtful and reflective side: all of this comes in to her composing and playing. The Conchas Chinas set brings together three pieces whose melodies flow one into another with quiet strength. Coilsfield House is a tune from Scotland’s tradition: it was composed by famed late eighteenth century fiddler Nathaniel Gow. Cassel dedicates the tune to Carol Ann Wheeler, the teacher back in Oregon from whom she first heard it and the woman who, she says, first taught her to love the fiddle.

The Buddy’s Strathspey set is, as you might think is you know of strathspeys, a lively set which may have you dancing yourself or at least tapping your toes. The title tune of the set is one Cassel composed in honor of the late Buddy Macmaster, a legend in Cape Breton fiddle playing with whom she studied. The set includes two tunes she learned from another top class Cape Breton master, Jerry Holland. A set that celebrates an intricate dialogue between fiddle and piano, These 30 Years (for Jennifer) frame Cassel’s fiddle with piano played by longtime musical collaborator Dave Wiesler.

There are many more tunes on Trip to Walden Pond, ones that will take you from celebrating to dancing to reflecting. Cassel does not sing or speak a word yet the voice of her fiddle speaks eloquently of all these stories. Among them is the one inspired by that trip to Walden Pond.

That is a favorite place for this New England based artist.The tune itself is a lively reel that is based in Scotland while giving an nod now and then to bluegrass and Americana influences. On this tune and across the music of the album you will notice the creative work of Mike Block on cello. Block is part of the Grammy winning Silk Road Ensemble, and is a respected as an innovative teacher and performer. One day, Cassel wanted to show her longtime friend Block Walden Pond. The next day, Block proposed. Soon after, she began writing the tune. Not long after that, the idea for the album began to circle around that piece.

You might also want to listen out for a tune on Ports of Call from Fraser and Haas -- it’s called Hanneke’s Bridal march.

You may also wish to see
Abundance from Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.
For Reasons Unseen: Hanneke Cassel
Cathie Ryan: The Farthest Wave on which Hanneke Cassel plays a lovely fiddle break on the title track
Sounds of Cape Breton: Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac
A different version of Freedom Come All Ye: Robyn Stapleton sings the song, backed by Skippinish

Waterfall in Skye photograph by Steelogic; performer photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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Monday, November 06, 2017

Circle of Song: Jayme Stone's Folklife and Macmath: The Silent Page

How does get passed along? Consider what two groups of musicians have done with very different songs of heritage: they have taken the music into their own lives as artists. By doing that they make the music, the stories it tells, and the lives of those who created it, real and inviting to listeners in the present. Music as time travel and as stories for the future, if you will.

Jayme Stone is an award winning banjo player, producer, and composer. In the project Jayme Stone’s Folklife, he joins up with singer and accordion player Moira Smiley, fiddler Sumala Jackson, and bassist Joe Phillips to explore, imagine, and at times reinvent music from across the landscape of American song. Rather than consider early field recordings and other sources on which they drew only as snapshots from generations past, Stone chose to look at them, he says, as heirloom seeds.

“I’m not collector,” Stone says, “Nor am I particularly nostalgic. I revel in the act of discovery.” With that in mind he brought Phillips, Smiley, and Jackson, three equally adventurous musical friends, together “to help blow the dust off these carefully chosen songs, uncover their hidden histories, and till fresh soil to see what might spring forth from these sturdy seeds.”

Quite a lot does. There are ten tracks on Jayme Stone’s Folklife,, drawn from seedbeds in Caribbean islands and in Mississippi, from the rural church tradition of sacred harp singing to the low down rhythms of a backwoods dance hall. Story, harmony, powerful musicianship with both instruments and voices, and the sheer energy, creativity, and joy of collaboration are what connect this diverse group of songs.

Every cut is worth exploring more than once. Listen out especially for Buttermilk, with guests Dom Flemons and Ron Miles, and Stone’s work on a prepared banjo (that’s one with objects added to the strings, making for a unique sound -- it’s still a banjo, but listen...). You will also want to hear what Moira Smiley does with the lead voice part on There’s More Love Somewhere. All four join on the singing for Hallelujah, along with guests Felicity Williams and Denzel Sinclaire. You may find yourself singing along -- and dancing along -- to these songs, which may feel familiar even if you’ve not heard them -- or not heard them like this -- before. Jayme Stone wishes that for you. “These songs are yours too,” he says. “Sing them, plant them in your yard, graft themto your own musical tree. Keep them watered and even if they lie fallow for a spell, they’ll revive. Folk songs are perennials.”

That is an idea the musicians who joined up as The Macmath Collective understand. It is what they’ve done with their recording Macmath: The Silent Page.

It began with two handwritten books. Perhaps you’ve heard songs referred to as Child ballads? Even if you’ve not you’ve no doubt heard some of the songs themselves, or sung them: Barbara Allen, Matty Groves, The Cherry Tree Carol, and dozens of others have entered the folk and popular song landscape, been adapted, and revised and handed on because Francis James Child, a professor at Harvard, published the books called The English and Scottish Popular Ballads in several volumes between 1882 and 1898. William Macmath, from Galloway in southwestern Scotland, loved music and the stories told through it. He was one of the people Child relied on to gather songs for him. Artist Edward Hornel (one oof the group of painters known as the Glasgow Boys ) bought a collection of papers which included those two handwritten books, and they ended up the collection at his home in southwestern Scotland. More than a century later, songwriter and community choir leader Alison Burns came across them, and in her words “began to think about ways to sing this paper collection back to life.”

Most of the songs and stories in the books were told directly to William Macmath by people who knew them and lived them in southwestern Scotland. It seemed natural then to turn to musicians in living and working in that region today with the idea. Wendy Stewart, one of Scotland’s top harp players, joined on, as did flute and fiddle player Claire Mann, who has won many All Ireland titles and been a principal flute tutor on the Scottish Music course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Guitarist and bouzouki player Aaron Jones, who has toured the world with artists including Old Blind Dogs and Kate Rusby, and singer Robyn Stapleton, who was named Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year by BBC Radio Scotland in 2014, were in. So were Jamie McClennan, who brought his fiddle and guitar talents to Scotland from New Zealand more than ten years ago, and Emily Smith, who is five albums into a solo career which includes awards for her songwriting and singing, among them twice being named as Scots Singer of the year by BBC Radio Scotland.

That’s an impressive group, yes. But what does the recording sound like? “We decided early on that our goal was to make a collection of singable songs with great arrangements,” Burns says. To that end, they sometimes tweaked some of the lines to help them fit with the music, and on occasion found local tunes or wrote new melodies where no music for a song existed.

There are thirteen songs on the recording. You may find song lyrics, story lines, perhaps melodies or phrases of music that will seem familiar, but you’ve not heard them quite like this before. There are love songs with happy endings and with not, fantastical tales, song which evoke the natural landscape and the world of fairies, a nonsense rhyme or two, stories of unusual people, advice on marriage, all framed in tales that people enjoyed singing and handing on through hundreds of years.

“We’ve chosen songs that were unusual, rare, or unique to the collection,” Burns points out, adding that while some of the stories may be familiar or you may have heard other versions of the songs, “the reason that you do may well be down to the work of William Macmath in recording and sending them on to Child for publication.”

In the hands and voices of these musicians the songs are no museum pieces, though. Source material, rather, and stories which on their own reflect and share the lively tale telling and singing that has taken place in southwestern Scotland through the centuries. Listen out especially for the lively tale of the cabin by in The Golden Vanitee and the story of love challenged by obstacles real and fantastical in The Queen of the Fairies. The joy of collaboration in music comes through in the singing and playing of the Macmath Collective on every track.

Singing songs back to life, reaching across time to share thoughts, ideas, celebrations, and stories: these are at the heart of the work on Macmath: The Silent Page and on Jayme Stone’s Folklife.

You may also wish to see
Emily Smith: Echoes
Music for Reflection with a song from Robyn Stapleton
Geography of Hope with a song by Moira Smiley
Carrie Newcomer’s album The Beautiful Not Yet which Jayme Stone produced and on which Moira Smiley sings harmony

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