As in any young musical relationship time allows musical familiarity and a chance to explore, experiment and tighten up that sound which first gave good reason to playing together. The Outside Track are no exception, after releasing their self-titled debut in 2007, their follow-up album, Curious Things Given Wings has certainly evolved into something more wondrous and exciting!
The Outside Track exude an energy that will catch your attention. This is partly down to their individual virtuosity but also their musical arrangements and interplay. During their time together and extensive touring they have developed and matured their style. They have experienced and fed off the reactions of the audiences to whom they perform. Amongst these five young musicians their is a unifying spark that invigorates and drives them, this has to be the marriage of their traditional roots which originate from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and Vancouver. You can only begin to imagine how exciting it must be for them to play together and the kick they must get from connecting those influences with eachother. The icing on the cake is how they interpret those traditions. Something that makes modern traditonal music so wonderful is the flourishes and other influences that come into play in shaping their sound. This is where The Outside Track come into their own and it’s where the accordion, guitar, bodhran, fiddle, flute, whistles and Sievert Harp interlope and make their magic!
The opening track The Turkish Revery was band member Norah Rendell’s choice. Norah, a Canadian Traditonal Singer of the Year nominee, learned the track from guitarist and singer, Daithi Sproule, who found it on his mother’s Burl Ives LP! The track opens to a simple Harp plucks (Ailie Robertson) before the guitar introduces a catchy driving rythmn. Once they’re in full swing you can hear very clearly the contribution of each musician, no one musician takes over. The arrangements are exciting and captivating and there is a live session feel to the recordings in as much that their energy comes across really well on the album.
The selection and diversity of tracks as well as their sequence adds a nice listener expectation as to what may be next. Le Voyage, a fast moving tune, follows the opener. This Quebecois tune, written by Eric St-Pierre, highlights the breadth of roots of the musicians on this album. Norah provides lead vocals with great harmony from Mairi Rankin.
There is plenty of diversity to enjoy, the amusing titled Swerving for Bunnies, is a lovely spritely set kicking off with Doberman’s Wallet, a Franke Gavin tune and ending in Ailie’s own composition. The stand out vocal track for me is Caroline of Edinburgh Town, a lovely but very sad song which was found by Norah’s husband, Brian Miller. According to the source singer, Michael C. Dean, he was sung this song by his Irish immigrant mother as a lullaby…it’s enough to give any child nightmares if they understood the words, as poor Caroline throws herself off a cliff as a finale! Such is folk music.
Belladrum Outhouse is a fantatstic set. According to the sleeve notes, Belladrum House is near Beauly in the Highlands of Scotland where Fiona Black (accordion) lives. The second tune in the set: De’il Tak’ the Breeks (I Hate Trousers) is a pipe reel referring to the time of the Highland clearances when the native kilt was prohibited and men were forced to wear ‘breeks’ or trousers.
There is a lovely version of the classic song Blackbirds and Thrushes, this version slows the pace down for more great singing from Nora who learned this version from Niamh Parsons which I also first heard for the first time on Niamh’s same titled album from 1999 (Green Linnet GLI 1197). The album wraps up nicely to Farewell Song which is a beautiful tune and song written by Julie Henigan, a scholar, poet and interpreter of traditional songs from Missouri.
There is no doubt that The Outside Track’s latest release has proven that they are not only fine exponents of their musical traditions but that they are fine musicians who can enthuse and bring those traditions to a wider audience! This is a great album and brilliantly produced by Mattie Foulds! I loved it and it gets a definite ten out of ten from Folk Radio UK!
The Outside Track are:
NORAH RENDELL: Flute (Canadian trad singer of the year nominee)
MAIRI RANKIN: Fiddle (a member of the famous Rankin Family also Beolach)
AILIE ROBERTSON Harp. (Live Ireland winner, BBC Young Trad Finalist)
FIONA BLACK. Accordion (BBC Fame Academy Winner)
CILLIAN 0’DALAIGH: Guitar
Buy the CD: Curious Things Given Wings
The Outside Track are currently touring the US. You can find out more here: http://theoutsidetrack.com
Curious Things Given Wings is Folk Radio UK’s album of the week for w/c 17th January 2011.