The Burns Unit is an 8 piece indie folk collaboration between some very well known names including King Creosote and Karine Polwart. Their much anticipated album titled Side Show was released in August this year.
Collaborations like this either work well or are doomed by the tip-toeing that goes on…never a conducive atmosphere to creativity. That said, there are some great exceptions, The Darwin Song Project was another eight piece collaboration that proved it could work well if the right names were selected and they were all given a the chance to be truly creative. This new 8-piece indie folk version features artists that have all been involved in collaborations in one form or another.
They are none other than Emma Pollock, King Creosote, Karine Polwart (who also took part in the Darwin Song project), Future Pilot AKA, Kim Edgar, Mattie Foulds and energetic piano‐man Michael Johnston (both from Canada) and rapper MC Soom T.
There are some parallels to be drawn between The Burns Unit and the Darwin Song project. Apart from there being 8 participants both were locked away from the outside world and stayed at a retreat where it was hoped creativity juices would mingle and produce something worthy of all their efforts. The Burns Unit was formed as aprt of a one-week songwriting retreat – called “Burnsong” – held in rural Scotland in December 2006. Each musician arrived with virtually no connections to or knowledge of one another.
Each of the ten tracks were co-written leaving no room for singular leadership. Did it work? Without being too dramatic, this is one of the best collaborations I’ve heard in a long time! There are plenty of duets throughout the album which just serves to underpin the fact that it worked beyond writting words on paper. The opening track Since We’ve Fallen Out features King Creosote and Karine Polwart. It starts with the unmistakeable trademark accordion of King Creosote. Both KC and Karine have similar plaintive voices that glide along easily together. A perfect start but the album holds other rewarding surprises. Send Those kids to War starts with a mighty chant by Kim Edgar and Karine Polwart that reminded me of a Scots Gaelic Waulking song that introduces the powerfully charged lyrics of MC Soom T.
A more sombre start is the duet You Need Me To Need This performed by Emma Pollock and Michael Johnston but this unexpectedly changes to a cabaret style climax which swoons from side to side. The album does have an ecelctic circus feel about it. You don’t know which way it’s going to go from what track to the next and there are a few surprises thrown in to keep your attention which adds to its appeal. There’s nothing worse than an overly predictive album…this one certainly isn’t.
Clearly when you’re cooped up in a group for a week and focused on the songwriting process, emotions and peoples pasts are going to bubble to the surface and emerge in lyrics. Isn’t that what makes good songwriting? I personally don’t want to listen to songs about puppy love, instead, Burns Unit offers us politically charged lyrics, as well as songs about alcohol (Sorry), being a parent (Helpless to Turn), murder (Blood, Ice and Ashes) and more.
The band made their first official debut in 2009 at Celtic Connections. Just as that was a roaring success this album will live up to the same expectations. A big congratulations to all the players involved!
16th Jan 2011
Glasgow – The Old Fruitmarket
Candleriggs Glasgow G1 1NQ
17th Jan 2011
London – Jazz Cafe
5 Parkway London NW1 7PG
18th Jan 2011
Milton Keynes – The Stables
Stockwell Ln Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK17 8LU
19th Jan 2011
Manchester – Club Academy
Oxford Rd MANCHESTER, Lancashire M13 9PR
Buy CD: Side Show