Fiona Mackenzie - Elevate - Whisperin' and Hollerin' Website
04 March 2008www.whisperinandhollerin.com
Mention Linn Records to this reviewer and he'd previously have begun to wax lyrical about The Blue Nile's wondrous debut album "A Walk Across The Rooftops" and also quite possibly the record's engineer extraordinaire Calum Malcolm who was also instrumental in the recording of magnificent early Postcard Records releases from Josef K and Orange Juice. All releases that have afforded this writer large portions of unadulterated bliss over the years.
Now, though, Linn are intent on bringing us another bundle of serious bliss courtesy of "Elevate", the debut solo album by Isle of Lewis native FIONA MACKENZIE: a young performer with a truly remarkable voice capable of straddling the disparate folk and pop worlds who has been writing and performing songs in both English and Scots Gaelic since her early teens with acclaimed Celtic bands such as Seelyhoo and Anam.
As with The Blue Nile, Calum Malcolm is again on board and playing a crucial role from both sides of the studio glass, while the songs are split roughly evenly between sparse acousticism and full band line up featuring other notable talents such as guitarist Matt Backer and guitarist/bouzouki player Brian O'hEadhra. Material-wise, the songs are nearly all original Mackenzie compositions, although she does draw on the rich folk tradition on several occasions.
Opening track When The Sunny Sky Has Gone is a warm and captivating introduction to Mackenzie's talents. Built around simple acoustic guitar and droplets of piano from Calum Malcolm, it's both dreamy and understated as well as the perfect vehicle for her gentle, folk-flecked vocal which is more than capable of taking the occasional Kate Bush-style flight of fancy if it so desires. It's sparse and dignfied stuff, as is much of what follows, not least on heady, Celtic-tinged affairs like Lots Of People or the aching Bye Bye where Fiona longs for lasting love ("how long will it be before you know?/ if someone is really right for you?") as the Robert Kirby-ish string arrangement couches and caresses.
Indeed, even when a full band are employed, they mostly play it stripped down and restrained, and often gloriously so on tracks like the menacing lope of In Between and the understated A Little While Longer where Mackenzie's voice is carried heavenwards by Backer's vibrato guitar and the keening strings. A full band sound is also employed on At the Bottom Of The Sea: to this reviewer's ears the best shot at a single here with a romantic, windswept feel and a memorable, yearning chorus.
Often, though, Mackenzie is wholly prepared to play it naked and emotional, not least on songs such as the enigmatic title track where it's not so much what Mackenzie sings as hints at ("why should I harm me?...that other time doesn't count/ I was just feeling...a little left out") that really startles. The three traditional-referencing tunes are pretty beguiling too: An Rhoghainn (The Choice) initially recalls Anne Briggs thanks to Mackenzie's a capella delivery, though she's later joined by Malcom's sympathetic piano and acordion, while Duisg Mo Chridhe (Awaken My Heart) is passionate and acoustic guitar driven. Most intriguing of all, though, is surely Hi O He (roughly the same in translation) where the bleeps, programming and textural saxophone will certainly shake up the Cecil Sharp House purists, though Mackenzie's smoky vocal here is one of the album's most alluring features.
By the time the deal's sealed with the deceptively simple, questing Everybody Knows, "Elevate" is already establishing itself as a firm favourite of the future. For now, its' author may well find herself being bracketed with a small coterie of vocally superior, but equally individualistic talents such as Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart and Siobhan Parr, but the majority of this debut suggests she will be very much her own woman and provide Linn with plenty to be proud of as her future unfolds.
Related LinksFiona MackenzieElevate