Fiona Mackenzie - Elevate - The Stornoway Gazette
Fiona Mackenzie's debut solo album, "Elevate" on Linn Records, caught me unawares.
Expecting something more folksy I was treated to a brooding, but inventive, melancholy and melodic album.
Born and brought up on the Isle of Lewis, singing has always had a place in Fiona's life, both within her family and as part of the rich Gaelic heritage of the Hebrides.
Whilst "Elevate" may be a debut solo album, Fiona has already established herself in the folk traditional music scene and is a member of famous bands such as Anam and Seelyhoo. She is also one of a trio of sisters, with Eilidh and Gillian Mackenzie completing the Mackenzie Sisters, a family band, each with a voice sent from heaven.
"Elevate" consists of subliminally persuasive songs, mostly made by Fiona, which are musically enchanting. They entered my subconscious unbidden, returning to me in movements of mental calm, when I least expected. I found myself singing the melodies to myself as they create a contemporary through intensely sad atmosphere, invoking Fiona's distinctively original style.
This is a definite chill album, it is dreamy and mystical. Fiona's voice expresses easily the lyrics of love, gentleness and a keen sense of loss.
Musically it is gifted with artists such as Mairi Campbell on strings, Brian Ó hEadhra on bouzouki, Julien Arguelles on saxophone, Calum Malcolm on piano and accordion and many others.
And Calum Malcolm has recorded and produced this album to a high, creative standard, with a clean, well-rounded and pure sound, managing not to be over fussy with the accompaniment, allowing us to enjoy the clarity of Fiona's voice without too much seasoning.
For me however, it is in Fiona's native Gaelic that she is truly outstanding. She sings An Roghainn - a poem by the great, late Sorely Maclean of Raasay - creating a melody for it that complements perfectly with its painfully heartbreaking sentiment with exquisite grace notes. It is powerfully invoking, spine-shivering sadness that you experience when hearing this, and I felt Calum Malcolm's gentler touch on piano delicately enhanced both the lyrics and vocals.
Again, it was the Gaelic song Duisg mo Chridhe, written by Eilidh Mackenzie, one of the trio of sisters, that I also found captivating and so terribly sad. Brian Ó hEadhra's minimalist guitar providing just the right amount of accompaniment.
It was with some degree of relief however, that I listened to the more upbeat Hi O Hè, which has an interesting, modern style introduction. It was like a mermaid enchantment love song, mysterious and haunting.
This is a short, but succinct, song that celebrates love and with a wide variety of instrumental accompaniment, manages to combine contemporary with traditional in a very sweet, yet passionate way.
Fiona's English songs are also very good and, although I did not find them quite as captivating as the Gaelic, still continue the themes of sadness.
At the Bottom of the Sea was my favourite, with great guitar, drums, bass and bouzouki, giving a rather summery chilled feel, but the lyrics are so sad! Always this pain pervading throughout the album.
If I were to complain about this album in any way whatsoever, it would be to say that it is incredibly, deeply and mood-changingly sad.
I would have liked to have hears one or two songs of a different nature, perhaps even something happy? Maybe that's just me and this suggestion might have ruined the perfectly wonderful, enchanting and intensely sad music.
There are times when a good cry over beautiful music can do the soul the world of good, and this album certainly leans in this direction. Despite the name "Elevate", I had fun being miserable.