Findlay Napier, Gillian Frame & Mike Vass The Ledger Cheerygroove Records
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, The Scotsman newspaper published words and music to traditional Scottish songs on a weekly basis. Findlay Napier’s grandfather, like many others, collected these, and in his case pasted them into an old ledger.
Many of these songs became standards at folk clubs and sessions; some still are. Here, Findlay, Gillian and Mike have opened the ledger, selected 10 of the songs they most like to sing, and presented an album that is both a document of those times and a vibrant testament to the power and beauty of songs that have transcended the centuries.
It helps, of course, that the performers are three of the finest in Scottish contemporary and traditional music today. Their take on the likes of Barbara Allan, Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants and Mormond Braes is a joy to listen to. This is an album of Scottish folk music as I used to listen to as a boy, as I enjoy listening to it now, and how I would like to listen to it in future.
iyatraQuartet Break the Dawn Self Out Now
I’m finding it hard to write about this album without letting a host of superlatives run away with me. Suffice to say it’s going to be one of my most listened to albums of the year, every time I come back to it, I find something I didn’t pick up on previous listens.
Recorded in single takes at London’s Union Chapel, Break the Dawn incorporates elements of English Renaissance music, Indian Raga and Arabic Love Song. These and more they take and weave their own distinctive sound.
In the hands of lesser talents such ambitions can overwhelm musicians, and identity can be lost amid the whirl of not quite fully formed ideas. Here, however, we have a clarity of purpose allied to such a high standard of musicianship that makes this album such a delight. Breathtaking.
Eliza Neals Black Crow Moan E-H Records Out Now
No question about what you get from Eliza Neals. Her voice soars over straight-ahead blues rock provided by a fine line-up of musicians. There’s a couple of heavy duty guests on this album, too – Derek St Holmes and a favourite of mine, Joe Louis Walker.
Walker appears to great effect on the title track and The Devil Don’t Love You, two of the most impressive tracks on the album. While Neals does a fine enough job on the high tempo rockers, it’s the slower numbers that best showcase her vocal abilities, check out Never Stay for proof of that.
Neals might be accused of lacking in subtlety on occasion, but let’s be frank here: she’s offering good music that’ll give you a good time, and if it sometimes appears that she’s grabbing you by the lapels of your jacket and shoving you up against a wall rather than whispering gently into your ear…well isn’t that why you’re here?
Dougie Burns Martha Own Label Out Now
Dougie Burns, music journalist, front man for The Cadillacs and also half of Bluebelly for around 15 years is – somewhat obviously – a man who should need no introduction to anyone with any familiarity with the Scottish music scene.
Taking an enforced break from running his regular gigs in Inverness, he has a new solo album to offer. Albeit, as solo albums usually are, made with the support of as we say in these parts “hunners”* of talented amigos including Martin Stephenson, Ally Macleod and Davy Cowan, who also produced the album.
The songs vary from the personal, title track Martha is a song for his mother, to the get off your backsides and dance of Take My Hand (Let’s Rock & Roll) and he demonstrates an equal ability to handle both of these. In short, if you’re already acquainted with Dougie’s music you’ll probably have this by now. And if you’re not, this is as good a place as any to start.
*”hunners” is an old Scots measurement that accurately describes any number between 2 and infinity.