Gillie MacKenzie hails from the village Gress (Griais, in Gaelic) on Lewis and, as the title suggests, much of the inspiration for her first solo album comes from her childhood home. A former National Mod Gold Medal winner, Gillie sings with her sisters as MacKenzie and teaches Gaelic song to primary school children in Edinburgh. With the help of producer / multi instrumentalist Ewan MacPherson, Alasdair White (fiddle & whistle), Mhairi Hall (piano), James Mackintosh (percussion), Ailig Hunter (bass) and Amy Geddes (viola), Griais mixes traditional Gaelic song with Gillie’s own compositions in Gaelic and English.
The traditional Thogail a’ Bhuntat’ (Lift The Potatoes) serves as a beautifully crisp, clear introduction to the album, who’d have thought tattie howkin’ could sound so appealing? The tempo remains upbeat with Grinn Donn Sgiobalta; a pair of traditional songs – the lightly skipping Strathspey, Grinn Donn Sgiobalta and, despite a more sombre opening, even more lively Fear An Dúin Mhóir.
Laighinn Leat, Gillie’s self-penned lament to a love lost at war, presents a change of pace and a change of direction with a plaintive and heart-rending vocal. Later in the album there’s a lament on a similar topic, Peacocks and Pearls, this time in English.
O Mhàiri’s tu mo Mhàiri (Oh Mary, You Are My Mary), a waulking song from Lewis, is delivered with a relaxed timing that adds an interesting dimension. Despite the less rigid approach to the working rhythm, the song remains true to its roots but at the same time is a refreshing rendition.
In Tràigh Ghriais (Gress Beach) Gillie pays tribute to her family home on Lewis. Sung in English, with the Gaelic chorus taken from a childhood song (Eilean Fraoich. Tràigh Ghriais) this has a gentle, sedate pace you just can’t help wanting to sing along with.
Broyges Tantz is a wonderful lively set that really stands out. Stylishly blending a Klezmer wedding dance with the cheeky Cò Bheir Thu Dhomhsa? (Whom Will You Give Me?) and leading to Mo Nighean Donn nan Caorach (My Brown Haired Maiden Of The Sheep) – a fast-paced declaration of love among the hills with a rousing, bassy combination of fiddle, guitar, percussion and vocal.
The careful harmonies of Do M’Chèile (To My Wife) are sung with love and accompanied by a gentle harmonium to produce a beautifully rounded, mellow sound. Gillie’s rendition of Moch Diluain Ghabh i ’n Cuan (Early on Monday She Took to Sea) incorporates a lovely fiddle tune (The Missing Marag) and sparkles like the sea under a bright sun.
Kitty Alice is another of Gillie’s own songs and a wonderful way to close the album. The song was named for her Dad’s mother, who died when he was just ten months old. It’s a beautiful lullaby in the best tradition – and written on the road, it would seem…
Still, I’ll sing for you a Culkein song
Gift love with every note
So hold it close, this cradle lilt
My song and soul are one
Griais is a beautifully presented piece of work, with Claire Lamond’s artwork and Gillie’s well-informed sleeve notes. Gillie MacKenzie has created a marvellous solo debut that not only exemplifies the appeal of Gaelic music, but broadens that appeal. There are contemporary twists to traditional forms, dazzling vocal and instrumental performances, and song-writing that captures the very soul of the Hebrides.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Gillie Mackenzie at Canons’ Gait, 13 May 2011- Gress song (with Ewan MacPherson (guitar) and Alasdair White (Fiddle)
Griais is self-released and produced by Ewan MacPherson (who also plays guitar and loads of other instruments on the album), and features Alasdair White (fiddle & whistle), Mhairi Hall (piano), James Mackintosh (percussion), Ailig Hunter (bass) and Amy Geddes (viola).
Order the album direct from Gillie (details on her website): www.gilliemackenzie.co.uk