William Jackson and Mackenzie - Notes from a Hebridean Island - Rambles

I randomly picked up Notes from a Hebridean Island while looking through the import section of the music store. Having never heard of either artist involved in this recording, I was drawn to the album title and cover. I like Hebridean Islands, having spent as much time as possible visiting them while living in Scotland, and the photo of a cottage at the edge of the vast sea was so beautiful, I had to buy it if only for this picture. I know you should never buy a CD for its cover, but I am very glad that I did.

The album is predominantly instrumental. A quick Internet search informed me that William Jackson is a well-respected Scottish harper and clarsach player, as well as the composer of the "New Song for Scotland." Jackson's harping skills feature prominently throughout, but there are very few solo harp pieces. Instead, the arrangements are multi-instrumental, bringing in fiddles, pipes, drums and accordions. On several selections, MacKenzie provides Gaelic vocals. The three sisters from the Scottish Isle of Lewis harmonise seamlessly on the ballads. The quicker-paced milling songs are also sung beautifully and energetically by the trio.

Although Jackson is a proficient composer, none of the pieces on this recording are his. All are traditional, except the final tune by accordionist, Ian Lowthian. All pieces have strong links to the Hebrides, hence the name of the album. Several preserve and credit the arranging of previous musicians, such as the pipe arrangements of Donald MacLeod. The Gaelic song "Ba Mo Leanabh (O My Baby)" uses the less well-known arrangement by Canadian singer Mary Jane Lamond, hauntingly performed by MacKenzie.

The piping on this album is as beautifully done as the harping and singing. Multiple styles are used and accentuate or lead the pieces flawlessly.

As you can see, this CD not only lived up to the breathtaking cover, but far surpassed my hopes. It is a wonderful recording, evoking a style of music and a glimpse of life in the Hebrides in times gone by. And if you don't like the music, there's always the cover!

31 January 2004