Notes from a Hebridean Island - The Living Tradition


06 August 2001
The Living Tradition
Alan McIntosh Brown

Multi-instrumentalist William Jackson remains steeped in deepest highland tradition - most of the reels and pipe pieces on this latest record date back centuries. It's the crystal clear voices of the three Mackenzie sisters of Lewis that steal the show here, however, nowhere more than on the aching lament "Ba mo leanabh"

I envy the visitor who is hooked by the very evocative (though not Hebridean) sleeve photograph on this CD, for inside he/she will hear some of the very best Scottish and Gaelic singing and instrumental music played by some of the best exponents of the art.

Produced and recorded by Calum Malcolm, it features mainly the considerable talents of William Jackson on harp, whistles, laud and piano and the equally considerable vocal talents of sisters Eilidh, Gillian and Fiona Mackenzie. Add to that guest musicians of the calibre of James Macintosh (percussion); Iain MacInnes (pipes); Tony McManus (guitar); Aidan O'Rourke (fiddle); Ian Lowthian (accordion) and Calum Malcolm himself on bass and keyboards and you can understand why this is no ordinary recording.

One or two of the tunes may have unfamiliar titles but are instantly recognisable and the Gaelic songs are sung beautifully. This reviewer's star track so far is a haunting version of Ba Mo Leanabh (O My Baby) which is a Canadian version of Griogal Cridhe, a lament attributed to the wife of Gregor MacGregor of Glenstrae and composed at his execution.

The instrumental tracks are beautifully paced, with the somewhat common recurring curse of playing everything at breakneck speed noticeably and thankfully absent. Here - aided by some clever arrangements - the melodies are allowed to stand up by themselves.

There isn't a weak track on the album, but it's probably worth mentioning that it's music for listening to. It's a joy from start to finish and is a near perfect example of all that's attractive about traditional - and traditional sounding - Scottish music.


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