Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Scotland's Music: Staran

Staran: in Gaelic, it means path, trail, stepping stones.

It is also the name of a new collaborative group of Scottish artists, and the name of their first recording together as a five piece band.

That is an idea artist Elly Lucas caught well on the album artwork.

John Lowrie, who plays piano, harmonium, and Rhodes and as well a percussion, is the one who brought Staran together. He’d worked with each of the other artists on various projects, but never with all of them together. He wanted to see what they could create. “I think the relationship we have as friends is reflected in the music,” Lowrie said.

Lowrie has toured and recorded with top artists including Siobhan Miler, Blue Rose Code, and Kris Drever. His compatriots in Staran are equally accomplished.

Innes White is in demand as a session and recording guitarist, having appeared on more than thirty albums. He has also been nominated as instrumentalist of the Year at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

Jack Smedley is a founding member of the award winning group RURA, and has released a duo album with flute player David Foley. He ls often called upon for session and recording work as well.

Kim Carnie brings vocals to the Staran mix. Singing is both Gaelic and English, she has performed at the UK’s top festivals, released a well received EP, and composed music for computer games. She often appears as a television presenter as well. Carnie has recently joined the top band Manran as well.

James Lindsay plays bass with Staran, and is known for his work with award winning band Breabach as well as his innovative solo work, which often brings elements of jazz to join with ideas from Sottish tradition. He’s received awards from In Tune With Nature competition of Nature Scot & Fèis Rois and the Martyn Bennett Prize for Composition.

Each of the five brings composing and arranging as well as performing skills to the band, in fact.

Those gifts -- and their gifts for collaboration -- can be heard in each of the nine tracks which comprise their debut album. There much to enjoy for those who love tradition as well as for those who go for innovation.

Dà Làimh sa Phìob opens with a shimmer of drone into Carnie’s nuanced and thoughtful canntaireachd as she and Smedley on fiddle reinvent the piper’s lines on this piece -- the title means two hands on the pipes. The backing from the other three is no less creative and collaborative.

That holds true through the instrumental set Back to Glasgow (and Back to Back Again) which brings together the title tune from James Duncan Mackenzie, a piece from Canadian musician Shane Cook, and an original composition from Smedley. Through the set Lowrie on piano twines a mellow lead line to Smedley on fiddle, who then speeds things up to a fast pace, each aspect well supported by the other members of the group.

Those are just two of the fine pieces of music on Staran’s debut album. In addition to the Back to Glasgow set, there are four tunes. Among them are Lowrie’s reflective composition Little Waves and Casino by Hannu Kella, which in the band’s treatment draws in elements ranging from classical to trad.

There are three more songs as well. In addition to Dà Làimh sa Phìob, Carnie sings two of them in Gaelic, with tasteful backing vocals from Megan Henderson. One has traditional words set to a melody of her own devising, and in the other she extends the traditional story -- a woman singing praise to her cattle, no doubt to bring them home and keep them happy for milking -- a bit with additional words and melody. Her song in English is called Settle, Honey, a blues/jazz inflected originaL from Carnie with a storyline which does not go quite as the title might suggest.

All of it is well worth repeated listening.

With all the projects John Lowrie, Innes White, Jack Smedley, James Lindsay, and Kim Carnie have on the go, it may be challenging for them to find time to continue this collaboration.

Then again, they recorded this album, which was mixed by Euan Burton, at three different studios and in the midst of uncertain travel restrictions, so clearly they are up for more than a few challenges.

Staran the album is a brilliant start for Staran the band. May their path continue.

You may also wish to see
Jack Smedley and David Foloey’s duo album, Time to Fly, is in this story about 3 instrumental albums from Scotland
Breabach; Frenzy of the Meeting
Julie Fowlis: Alterum
Capercaillie: At the Heart of It All

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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