Maeve Mackinnon’s follow-up album Once Upon An Olive Branch interweaves a distinctively Scottish sensibility with far-reaching musical influences. In the foreground is her many-hued voice: warm and mellow on Oran do Ghilleasbuig òig Heisgir, reflective and heartfelt on unaccompanied She Moved Through the Fair. She brings a restrained anger to self-penned The Olive Branch where her husky, jazzy tones are exchanged for a glacial purity. Ewan MacColl’s The Father’s Song gives Mackinnon the opportunity to shade a wistful tenderness into wounded ire. She’s a perceptive, expressive singer and this album shows how versatile she is.
Vibrant, sophisticated instrumental arrangements underpin Mackinnon’s vocals and draw attention to her rich cultural and musical background. Fionnghuala is an interpretation of the eponymous Scottish port a beul. Here the nimble lilt of the original mouth music blends funkily with the vamped-up accompaniment. Horo Iollaraigh’s airy vocals are laced with hypnotic variations that are both dreamily ethereal and evocatively elemental. The Hebridean folk song, O Phail o ho ghraidh, is transformed into an urban-groove love-lament where traditional and contemporary musical styles unify to produce something sassy and new.
Once Upon An Olive Branch is an album brimming with confidence and finesse. Whilst it has its origins in Mackinnon’s desire to honour the wellsprings of her musical heritage it also demonstrates how diverse and eclectic her influences are. She is fluent in both ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’, switching easily to and fro using the latter to translate and interpret the former – and vice versa. Her voice, mature and knowing or girlish and innocent, with many shades in between, draws the listener into her musical world – one that is shaped and influenced by tides flowing from different shores but centred in her homeland: its city streets and mysterious, remote islands. The result is an eloquent, beautifully sung synthesis and a rich and varied listen.
Review by: Rose Collins