Breabach seem to have been phenomenally busy this year, bringing their big Scottish sound to locations as varied as small village halls in remote parts of western Scotland and world music festivals in South Korea. But alongside all the travelling they have found time to record and release their fourth album, Ùrlar.
It might seem odd to use the term ‘introspection’ of a band with a reputation for producing powerhouse live performances that leave festival audiences reeling. Yet a form of introspection is what Breabach have undertaken in assembling the tune sets, Gaelic and English language songs that make up Ùrlar. As part of their hectic touring schedule this year, they’ve made a point of visiting each band member’s home town, giving them an opportunity to talk with, play with and get inspiration from the people and places that helped mould them into the musicians they are today.
The result is a fascinating amalgam of traditional and contemporary tunes and songs set in context by brief but informative sleeve notes. One meaning of Ùrlar in Gaelic is theme and it’s not difficult to detect one as the sense that this is music with strong personal significance for the band is effortlessly established, at times giving the same feeling of individual connection that one gets when listening to the best singer-songwriters.
Whilst Breabach’s signature sound, making full use of the interplay between two sets of highland pipes and fiddle, is well in evidence, most notably on the opening track, The Poetic Milkman, Ùrlar well illustrates the continuing development and diversification that Breabach showed in their previous album. Megan Henderson’s fine Gaelic vocals are given prominence whilst the emergence of Calum MacCrimmon as a vocalist alongside Megan and Ewan Robertson has added further variety. On the instrumental side, Calum and James Duncan Mackenzie, whilst continuing their two-pipe adventures, are increasingly exploring the more subtle interplay of whistles and flutes with Megan’s fiddle, to great effect on tracks such as the gentle, evocative Forvie Sands. Throughout, Ewan’s guitar and the double bass of James Lindsay provide a rock solid underpinning.
When I caught up with Breabach at the Tiree Festival back in July, they were just a couple of weeks away from starting the recording of Ùrlar. Studio time had been booked, Kris Drever lined up to produce and there was a tangible excitement coming from the band at the prospect of working with Kris. Having now heard the result, that excitement has clearly translated into a beautifully tight working relationship. The 10 tracks on Ùrlar are as fine a collection as you could wish for. They bring together varied aspects of the Scots tradition with contemporary compositions, executed by five musicians at the top of their game, both individually and collectively. Breabach are currently the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards Band of the Year and have been nominated in the Best Live Act category of this year’s awards. Just this week they have been nominated in the Best Group category of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Whilst they continue to produce music of this quality and originality, it’s hard to imagine them relinquishing their top spot.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
21st – Eastgate Arts Centre, Peebles
22nd – Kings Place, London
23rd – Number 8, Pershore
25th – Nettlebed Village Club, near Henley on Thames
27th – Phoenix, Exeter
28th – Colchester Arts Centre
30th – Edinburgh St. Andrews night, Grassmarket, Edinburgh
Ùrlar is released 21 Oct 2013 via Breabach Records
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