Back in October of last year we reported on Fiona Hunter’s album preview at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe. As singer with Malinky for the least ten years, Fiona has three times been nominated for the Scots Singer of the Year award at the Scots Traditional Music Awards; and it’s her love of traditional Scottish song, especially from around her native Glasgow, that’s been the inspiration for this album. Mike Vass has taken the helm as producer, with the duet working together on the arrangements; joining them in the studio were talented Arran fiddler Gillian Frame (Back Of The Moon), multi-instrumentalist Innes Watson (Lori Watson and Rule of Three, Ross Ainsley & Jarlath Henderson) and renowned jazz bass player Euan Burton.
The album opens with the beautifully warm tones of Fiona’s cello to introduce Robert Tanahill’s Braes O’ Gleniffer. In the Renfrewsire hills Tannahill himself loved to explore, a woman feels the bite of winter while she remembers a summer of love. Despite Tannahill’s gloomy outlook, this rendition’s rich warmth evokes summer and cleverly shifts the focus from regret to happy memories…
The wild flowers o’ simmer were spread a’ sae bonnie
The Mavis sang sweet frae the green birkin tree
But far to the camp they ha’e marched my dear Johnnie
And now it is winter wi’ nature and me
Other traditional songs are given invigorating treatments. The Bleacher Lass O’Kelvinhaugh is presented in a light, refreshing form – with golden backing vocals and a lovely, intricate instrumental conclusion. The Laird O’ Drum is a typical tale of class-crossed lovers and the version Fiona learned from mentor Andy Hunter offers the most engaging blend of authentic and contemporary you could possibly hope for; with subtle shades of Pat Metheny in the guitar work.
Of course, the livelier moments are tempered by some more gentle, and even sombre offerings. Young Emsley is a beautiful adaptation of Lizzie Higgins’ version, with soft guitar and cello to support the vocal. Where strings and voice combine to full effect, however, it is in that darkest of murder ballads, The Cruel Mother. Fiona’s voice is full of drama, sorrow, anger as needed while cello and fiddle create a ghostly chill.
There’s also no shortage of buoyant humour. Robert Burns excelled at tales of domestic discord and The Weary Pund is one of his best. In closing with the cautionary tale Jock Hawk, Fiona brings the album to a lively, invigorating conclusion and, just as in live performance, leaves her audience hungry for more.
I cam’ into the world a bairn,
Sae naked and sae bare,
I cam’ oot frae Glesca
And I’ll never gang nae mair
Above these fine offerings MacCrimmon’s Lament stands proud. Spine-tingling from its a capella first verse; with harmonium, guitar, backing vocals and atmosphere building throughout. A performance charged with emotion.
The shining star of this album, though, is Fiona’s vocal performance. Not simply the clarity of her voice, or the degree of expression – her gift for the interpretation of traditional song and the use of Scots language is unsurpassed. Each song on the album demonstrates an intimate understanding of the Scottish Oral tradition and highlights its existence not only in the more familiar highland context, but as a tradition of every region.
Anyone with a fondness for Scottish traditional song, or in need of an introduction, should view this wonderful album as a must buy.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
The Bleacher Lass o’ Kelvinhaugh
Album Stream (Via Deezer)