Ewan Robertson, part-time fire fighter and guitarist/vocalist with rising Scottish folk band Breabach, has delivered a debut solo album which demonstrates his fine playing and eclectic mix of musical interests. A former student of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music based in beautiful Plockton, Robertson exudes the talent which the centre has helped foster over the last few years – all the more poignant consider Highland Council’s short-sighted recent decision to withdraw funding from the school from 2012 onwards although a potential lifeline has been thrown by the University of the Highlands and Islands.
The album, the result of Robertson winning the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award in 2008, features a couple of Breabach stalwarts – James Lindsay provides double bass and Patsy Reid joins with violin, viola and cello but the album also includes a first-rate selection of luminaries including part-time Ceilidh Minogue member Angus Lyon on piano, organ and, of course, accordion accompaniment. Ewan MacPherson brings his wealthy experience of 12-string guitar, banjo and mandolin to the mix and Donald Hay, recently associated with the Nuala Kennedy Band contributes drums and percussion, whilst Alan Train supplies pedal steel guitar. The ubiquitous, but always welcome, Rick Taylor (Peatbog Faeries, Usual Suspects, Harem Scarem amongst many others), offers trombone and backing vocals as well as a track for the album. An extra treat is guest vocalist Emily Smith.
Kicking of Some kind of certainty is ‘One for the Ditch’ a “song about drinking good quality single malt whisky, feeling sorry for yourself and staring into the fire”. It’s an able affair, well polished and melodic but missing the heartsickness expected from such a melancholic subject. It’s swiftly followed by a rollicking, toe-tapping version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Vincent Black Lightning’ which demonstrates the rich orchestration at play in this album.
Phil Ochs ‘When I’m Gone’ is delivered with a plaintive tenderness which is in contrast to Phil’s prophetic original (or even Dick Gaughan’s more resolute version) whilst Ewan’s interpretation of Show of Hands’ ‘Man of War’ is perhaps the most musically interesting track on the album; served with a youthful defiance and some pacey jew’s harp by Ewan MacPherson.
Queen Anne’s Revenge duo Finlay Napier and Nick Turner provide Ewan with ‘Ride Away’, a poppy little track filled with some sharp piano and guitar and a swaying doze of jazzy trombone by Rick Taylor all sweetly accompanied by Emily Smith’s cool vocals. Emily also returns on the Taylor/Venters track ‘Doesn’t get better than this’.
For me though, it’s in Ewan’s interpretations of traditional songs that he really shines. ‘O Gin I were’ is a beautifully contemporary version of the traditional Scots love song coupled with some atmospheric slide guitar, whilst ‘Ship in Order’, softly, but confidently, sung is a skilfully produced and arranged track – reminiscent, in part, of Jim Moray’s orchestration.
Some kind of certainty is a fine solo debut which demonstrates not only Ewan’s promise but the wealth of Scottish talent already doing the rounds. It’s a smooth and accomplished recording with a nicely contemporary and youthful vibe.
Buy from Amazon: Some Kind Of Certainty