Norrie McCulloch – Bare Along the Branches
Black Dust Records – 24 February 2017
Scottish singer/songwriter Norrie McCulloch reflects on life (with its losses, disappointments and promises of hope) on his third album, Bare Along the Branches. McCulloch’s music on this recording is a mixture of folk-rock, roots, alt-country and Americana.
Whether by design or accident, it seems apt timing to have released Bare Along the Branches in February when Scotland can be cold and bleak. And for a musician who was born in Ayrshire, where collieries (coal mines) have taken the lives of more than a few workers (including from roof falls and coal dust), it’s fitting for the album to be on Black Dust Records.
Norrie McCulloch wrote all ten songs on Bare Along the Branches, with the songs ranging in length from under three minutes (Never Leave You Behind) to over seven minutes (Beggars Woods).
As well as writing the songs, McCulloch contributed vocals, harmonica and six and twelve string guitars. Musical and vocal support comes from The Wellgreen’s Stuart Kidd (drums, percussion, vocals) and Marco Rea (electric bass, vocals), plus Dave McGowan (Teenage Fanclub / Belle and Sebastian – electric guitar, upright bass, banjo, piano, Rhodes, Hammond, lap steel), Iain Sloan (The Wynntown Marshalls – pedal steel, vocals) and Iain Thompson (Bella Hardy band – mandolin). The sleeve photographs were taken by Russian photographer Alexander Moiseev, with the cover photo shot in Russia “at a place where one can see the Aurora lights”.
The album opens briskly with Shutter (“The shutter on the back door kept me up all night”), which despite its upbeat music tells of the ending of a relationship.
In the mournful Safe Keeping (“so she worked the factory line, making other people’s shoes, no one every looked inside to see she was wearing through”) and in the Around the Bend (with its harmonica opening), McCulloch explores the passing of time.
Commitment (albeit tinged with regret) is the theme for the songs Never Leave You Behind and the piano-based This Time.
Closing Bare Along the Branches is the song Beggars Woods, from those lyrics the album takes its title. Beggars Woods merges the past and the present, beginning and ending with a cautionary tale from childhood.
As a young man, Norrie McCulloch moved to Glasgow, subsequently working in Stirlingshire. He released his first album (Old Lovers Junkyard) in 2014 and followed that up with These Mountain Blues in 2016.
In addition to being a musician, McCulloch is a visual artist, with work commissioned for Ken Loach’s film Aye Fond Kiss (a story set in Glasgow about the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants and a young Irish Catholic woman) and David Mackenzie’s film Hallam Foe (a coming of age drama that takes place in Edinburgh).
On Bare Along the Branches, Norrie McCulloch opens a window into innermost thoughts and feelings, using everyday objects and phrases to add texture and layers of meaning. Despite its exploration of loss and disappointment, Bare Along the Branches is a fulfilling album, with its soul seemingly firmly planted in small town/rural Scotland.
Photo Credit: Iain Thompson