I first came into contact with Patsy Reid in the Late Night Club at Gosport and Easter Festival, Breabach had just shaken the place to its foundations and the room was buzzing with the excitement they’d generated. There was a tear in the eye when Patsy and Breabach went their separate ways in 2011, with Patsy becoming increasingly involved in a vast array of collaborations. A quick, and I suspect incomplete, trawl found 12 albums that she has contributed to within the last 3 years. The Brightest Path, however, is the first album released under her own name since 2008, and it’s most certainly been worth the wait. It’s an album that brilliantly illustrates the breadth of Patsy’s musical interests and talents. It includes, I’m delighted to say, tracks that in live performance could generate the same buzz as on that first night with Breabach.
Although billed as a ‘solo’ album, Patsy has made good use of her previous collaborations to put together what she calls the core band. This consists of Ben Nicholls (double bass), Ewan MacPherson (guitars, banjo and mandolin), Signy Jakobsdóttir (percussion), Mhairi Hall (piano) and Mattie Foulds (drums). An addition to this core, initially coming as something of a surprise, is the alto sax of Fraser Fifield. Patsy contributes fiddle, viola and cello to the line up. As she says, a one woman string quartet.
The album opens with an instrumental track written by Patsy, Hooray Henry. A toe-tapping percussion and banjo rhythm is soon overlaid by a solo fiddle building into a three instrument string arrangement. Then the alto sax joins in and the track really takes off, with banjo, fiddle and sax interweaving phrases in a style that wouldn’t be out of place in a jazz quartet, but I doubt any jazz outfit ever thought to feature this combination of instruments. Patsy has described Fraser Fifield as “the saxophone version of me” and Hooray Henry illustrates just how apt a description this is. I may have been surprised to find alto sax in the listings but was soon convinced it was an inspired move. I confess I would have been content if the album had simply continued in this vein but Patsy paints on a much broader musical canvas. To underline this, the very next track, Donside, returns to traditional territory with a set of two tunes that Patsy has culled from the Atholl Collection archives in Perth.
As well as instrumental fireworks, the album includes 3 songs, all by contemporary songwriters. In explaining her choice of songs, Patsy says she doesn’t consider herself to be a folk singer. I’d quite like to debate this with Patsy, her delightful version of Lochaber No More (lyrics penned in 1724 and set to an even older tune) remains one of my favourite Breabach vocal tracks. However, ancient or modern, her pure tone and expressive delivery ensure that the songs add another rich layer of enjoyment to the album.
Patsy is currently touring, with dates planned up to May, showcasing the album material. She’ll be accompanied by Mhairi Hall, Ewan MacPherson and Signy Jakobsdóttir and Ben Nicholls will join them at Cecil Sharp House for the April 30th gig. Sadly, Fraser and his alto sax isn’t able to be part of the line up this time around but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ll catch the Patsy/Fraser pairing live at some point. Meanwhile, I’ll be enjoying this album in all of its many facets.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
Released via Classy Trad Records 24 Feb 2014