The key release in this four CD re-issue form Eddi Reader’s back catalogue is The Songs Of Robert Burns. The original album was part of a concert and recording project in 2003 to bring the poems and songs of Burns to life with the aid of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, later expanded into a Deluxe Edition in 2009 to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, with the addition of extra material. This later issue also benefited from two sold out concert performances at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival.
The sleeve notes offer a valuable insight into the thinking behind it all. Interestingly it’s John McCusker’s thoughts we get first and he is honest enough to admit that when the project was first mooted it worried him. His fears that it might turn out to be, “…dead posh…”, were, however, quickly assuaged as Eddi assured him that she was after a more earthy tone, with Tom Waits as the role model rather than anything aimed at high society.
McCusker’s brief it seems was to bring the folk element to the mix and he set about recruiting a crew both skilled and also who he felt would be able to have a little fun with things, in case they took a turn for the overly worthy. He invited guitarist Ian Carr, bassist Ewen vernal and multi instrumentalist Phil Cunningham, who accordion, piano and whistles.
Eddi was obviously the central figure around which all of this revolved and takes credit on all of the burns arrangements, either in consort with others on the team or solo as the figurehead. She also invited a couple of longer term collaborators along and Boo Hewerdine, with whom she has had a long and fruitful song writing partnership, takes overall production responsibility as well as guitar duties. Drummer Roy Dodds had of course worked with Eddi right from the Fairground Attraction days. Also taking part at Eddi’s invitation are Irish guitarist Colin Reid and Christine Hanson on cello.
The two ‘teams’, as John McCusker refers to them seem to have little prior experience of each other. It seems, however, that they hit it off straight away, enjoying each other’s company and finding their musical common ground in no time. Eddi’s obvious passion and determination to find that raw earthiness in the material seems to have galvanized all around her.
The final part of this mixture is of course the orchestra and the arrangements and conducting is down to Kevin McCrae. It isn’t the full orchestra that’s employed, however, but still a 24 piece string section makes a big production out of this. They still, however manage the trick of letting the other instrumentalists have their breathing room, which is where this record really succeeds. It’s the marriage of the whole that provides a platform for Eddi’s superb voice.
Those sleeve notes continue musings from Boo Hewerdine about the nature and purpose of poetry. The most important information, however, is contained in Eddi’s account of what drew her to attempting this ambitious project. It mixes a certain degree of autobiography, which is revealing of her early life and her eventual connection to Rabbie Burns.
Eddi was the oldest of seven children and her father was a welder. The family had it’s roots in the slum tenements of Glasgow, but being moved to the outskirts of the city during the clearances. Still only housed in a two bedroom flat, her mother’s pressure eventually got them relocation to a bigger house in the rapidly growing overspill in Irvine, Ayrshire. As controversial as the new town development was, it was paradise by comparison, although Eddi will still live in Glasgow with her grandmother to finish her schooling. Still when Eddi was finally united with her family, she found the thriving local music and arts scene inspirational.
Burns own adoption by Irvine had come 200 years earlier, with the young man despatched by his father to learn a trade as a flax dresser, rather than continuing ion the family farm. Burns did his growing up there and also started to write. It was more than 200 years later that Eddi finally made the connection and realised that something she had dismissed as above her was anything but. Burns wrote for the common man, sure he explores some big ideas and you may well find this collection a springboard for a more detailed exploration of his work, coming as it does with some handy margin notation, translation and comment from Eddi.
There is wonderful stuff in the source material, but also in the treatment of it. Long before this recording Eddi had won the right to be regarded as on the of the very best singers of her generation, making serious inroads into the charts, but in a way that always suggested she was much more than an airbrushed pop star. There has been no attendant glitz, just the sound of Eddi quietly getting on with the business of making music, but we’ll cover other aspects of her career elsewhere.
In many ways this is her homecoming record. It’s boldly ambitious mixture of different musical leanings, talents and ideas, but Eddi makes the connections over 200 years to pull it all together. So, whatever your thoughts about Rabbie Burns, it cannot be recommended highly enough. It takes pride of place as one of four of Eddi’s CDs being reissued by reveal and we’ll bring more on the other shortly.
Review by: Simon Holland
Album Stream (via Deezer)
The Songs Of Robert Burns is released July 15th via Reveal Records
Order from: Reveal Records
Eddi Reader November 2013 Tour Dates
1st Manchester RNCM Tickets
2nd Cardiff The Gate Tickets
3rd Birmingham The Glee Club Tickets
5th Bridport Electric Palace Tickets
6th Pocklington Arts Centre Tickets
7th Holmfirth Picturedome Tickets
8th Macclesfield St Michael’s Church Tickets
10th Nottingham The Glee Club Tickets
11th Milton Keynes The Stables Tickets
13th London Union Chapel Tickets
14th Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms Tickets
16th Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre Tickets
17th Bury St Edmunds Milkmaid Folk Arts Apex Tickets
18th Bingley Arts Centre Tickets
20th Stockton ARC Tickets
22nd Montrose Town Hall Tickets
23rd Dunfermline Alhambra Theatre Tickets
24th Dundee The Gardyne Theatre Tickets
26th Aberdeen Music Hall Tickets
27th Hamilton Townhouse Tickets
29th Glasgow Royal Concert Hall Tickets
30th Edinburgh Usher Hall Tickets