Monday, July 24, 2017

Scotland's music: Emily Smith: Echoes

A meeting with an old friend that might go wrong but in the end goes right, reflections on a seafaring life and a ship put at anchor, a disagreement between two sisters with an unexpected ending, a refection on seed time and harvest, and another on journeys: these are but several of the stories Emily Smith tells through the songs in her recording Echoes.

Many are told in songs arising from traditions of Scotland, framed in arrangements by Smith. A gifted songwriter herself, she well knows how to arrange music in service of story, and how to connect with tradition while keeping music and story fresh. Those are gifts which come through in her clear and expressive singing as well.

That tale of a meeting that seemed to go wrong and then right is one such song from tradition. It is called Reres Hill. Smith also turns to the tradition of Scotland for The Hawk and The Crow. In rather different ways each song holds a touch of wry humour, which Smith conveys with a light touch.

King Orfeo taps the mystical aspect of tradition and legend with several threads of good story in it. Smith tells this tale from Shetland with clarity and good energy that well suits the tale, it path, and its outcome. That’s also true with her take on the gentle, bittersweet classic My Darling Boy.

The Sower’s Song has words by poet Thomas Carlyle set to music composed by Smith and her musical partner and husband Jamie McClennan. Carlyle, a 19th century writer, came from Dumfries and Galloway, which is also Smith’s native place It is a reflective story of the turns of time as framed in seed time and harvest.

Now hands to seed sheet boys
We step and we cast, old Time’s on wing
Partake of harvest joys
The seed we sow in spring

Smith has chosen work from contemporary songwriters for Echoes as well. Among these are reflections on change told through a seaman’s work in The Final Trawl, written by acclaimed Scottish songwriter Archie Fisher. The Open Door by Americana songwriter Darrell Scott has to do with change too: in the space of three short verses he creates a lasting story which Smith conveys with thoughtful understatement.

It is indeed an interesting, creative and thoughtful journey Smith leads through the music she’s chosen for Echoes. In this she’s well supported by frequent collaborators McClennan, who produced the project and joins in on fiddle guitar, and backing vocals, Mattheu Watson on guitars, Signy Jakobsdottir on percussion, and Ross Hamilton on bass. Special guests sit in as well from time to time, including Jerry Douglas, Tim Edey, Aoife O’Donovan, Rory Butler, Natalie Haas, and Kris Drever.

Following on the idea of journeys and echoes which thread through the music, Smith and McClennan have chosen the song John O’Dreams to draw things together for a quiet close.

Echoes is an album which offers enjoyment, inspiration, and invitation to repeated listening. Every track is a keeper.

Photographs of Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow by Kerry Dexter, made with permission of the artists, the venue, and the festival. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see

Music for Late Winter, a story here at Music Road which includes Emily’s fine holiday recording, Songs for Christmas.

Songs of Hope, part two of a continuing series here at Music Raod, which includes The Sower’s Song

Emily Smith, Jamie McClennan, and Robert Burns

Scotland in Six, a story I’ve done at Perceptive Travel with six Scottish musicians you should know, among them Emily Smith, Eddi Reader, and John McCusker.

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