Following the release of her second solo album, The Fruited Thorn (read the review here) last year, Kaela Rowan‘s exploratory mix of ancient and contemporary themes, soothing balladry, haunting Gaelic song and fiery Puirt à beul, has been finding an ever-widening audience. That audience undoubtedly grew even wider, as Kaela brought the music of The Fruited Thorn to the Mitchell Theatre for Celtic Connections, ahead of Paul McGeechan‘s Starless.
Opening with a rendition of Robert Burns’ Now Westlin’ Winds that soothed even more than the entrancing opening of her album, Ewan Vernal‘s soft double bass provided the perfect counterpoint to the twin guitars of James MacKintosh and Ewan MacPherson. The final ingredient in this calming cocktail, Lauren MacColl‘s soaring fiddle. It’s a heady mix, mellow with a quiet magnificence. Kaela’s trembling vocal can also take on a soft intensity, like in the impassioned delivery of Andy M Stewart‘s take on I Wish I Were A Blackbird.
Kaela had other guests to bring to the stage, and the first to join was uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson; for a hushed, ghostly telling of Lord Gregory (The Lass of Roch Royal) and a heart-wrenching pipe/fiddle duet. For the heartbeat rhythm of Nighean Nan Geug Jarltah’s low whistle was a voice on the wind, but as he joined Kaela for a vocal duet in As I Roved Out, his harmonies were a perfect match.
The gentle power of Kaela’s vocal was also complimented by the inclusion of the Marwari vocal of Dayam Khan Manganiyar, from Rajasthan. When Dayam joined the band for the 16th-century lament Grioghal Cridhe, the combination of Kalea’s Gaelic vocal and his outstanding, intensely sorrowful chant floated over an ethereal mist of electric guitar, bowed cittern and spectral violin that held the audience spellbound. A gentle change of tempo was helped along by Mary and the Gallant Solider, then a closing combination of Puirt à beul, Strathspey and reel to end on an even lighter note.
To come from the bustle of Glasgow City Centre to the welcoming atmosphere of The Mitchell Library and lose yourself in the mellow lull of Kaela’s vocal is a tonic for the soul. A perfect blend of styles delivered with assured mastery by a group of highly accomplished musicians; The Kaela Rowan Band provided another example of the genuinely outstanding quality of performance on offer at Celtic Connections.
The Kaela Rowan Band have gigs scheduled in February, and through March, full details are available here www.kaelarowan.net/tour/