Iain Morrison, the son of the distinguished Scottish piper Iain M Morrison (senior), was taught the highland pipes (piobaireachd) from a young age by his father. Despite an early love for the music he chose not to follow the path of his father and instead followed one towards Indie Rock and song-writing. Six albums in, he returns to the culture and language in which he was raised with Eas, an album rich with Morrison’s established sound intertwined with the piping tradition and the sweet sound of his Gaelic mother-tongue.
A native to the Isle of Lewis, Morrison’s musical career has sky rocketed from his indie band ‘Crash my Model Car’ to playing alongside Jerry Douglas and Bela Fleck on Transatlantic Sessions as well as being commissioned to write his own ‘New Voices’ piece for Celtic Connections based on the ancient melodies he was taught as a young boy. Eas, Gaelic for ‘Cascading Waterfall’ is also grounded in that music – in ‘piobaireachd’, the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipes, and is filled with the feeling of nostalgia of his homeland in the Scottish Isles.
The album opens to Siubhal (47) with Morrison’s soft voice, with the ever-treasured lilt of the Hebridean accent. For those who have visited the Western Isles, Siubhal, meaning ‘travel’ or ‘journey’, realises the track’s name by taking listeners on the crossing back to the Western Isles, allowing the breath-taking views and smell of the peat to fill the mind. Morrison’s tranquil voice is tantalising, and tenders a great combination of intensity and passion which is heightened by Uillean Pipes and low whistle accompaniment. The track is a stately opener.
The title track, Eas (recently premiered on Folk Radio UK), embraces a pop vibe with a steady back line as well as backing vocals holding a simple but catchy riff. Here the piping influence is well hidden under the modern arrangement, a track reflecting Morrison’s earlier recordings. With a fuller sound, A Flame of Wrath for Patrick Caogach, is a piece which you would expect to find on the Scottish folk scene, which is unsurprising given that Morrison is joined by numerous folk musicians on this track including Shetland’s own Chris Stout. The track is driven by percussion with surprising and absorbing gentle moments warmed up with a cello riff, which is shortly uplifted by a richer and exultant sound.
Crackle begins with a Gaelic story told by piper Allan MacDonald, who tells the tale of a father and son and the piping tradition they share. A translation is not given in the sleeve notes, so a taste of the tale for non-Gaelic speakers: ‘it is not about being right or wrong, being there or not, good or bad; we are all as one. And on their knees, they must pray.’ The story is moving, with MacDonald’s calming voice being enhanced by melody lines on the pipes, strings and vocal.
R. Morar and Too Long in This Condition are perfect examples of Morrison’s craft, a craft which was recognised in 2010 when he was awarded ‘Composer of the Year’ at the Scottish Trad Music Awards. Both tracks feature ‘canntaireachd’, which translates as ‘chanting’: a Scottish Highland tradition of notating pipe music by singing the tune using vocables to reflect the ornamentation and melody of the tune. The technique has become popular amid Gaelic singers, with Rona Lightfoot fronting the tradition. It is the canntaireachd of Iain’s father which is heard on the tracks. Too Long in This Condition is a personal favourite. Iain Snr’s voice is effortless and captivating, which is only interrupted by the coaching voice of piping legend Donald MacLeod, also a Lewis man, who taught Iain Snr.
You’re My Letting Go is the closing track and perhaps the sweetest on the album. The song is stripped back to guitar and vocal for the first half of the track, offering Morrison’s voice the freedom to flourish. At times the album is deep in intricate arrangements, leaving his vocal hidden as a consequence. The closing number escapes this. As the track progresses, Iain is joined yet again by a great line-up of musicians, including Lori Watson who provides an enriching harmony line. Watson’s vocal also appears on The Little Spree and R. Morar. As the track meets its peak, it is sure to leave listeners with goosebumps.
With Eas, Morrison joins the uprising of the Gaelic community’s pop-rock ‘fusioneers’, with those such as Niteworks and Macanta leading the way. The album is Morrison’s strongest and most heart-warming to date, an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Review by: Kim Carnie
Eas is out on July 31st via Peat Fire Records with a vinyl release due in mid August.