This review is written by Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org, 6/02
I want you to imagine something. If you live in North America and you read this, try and imagine what it is like to be a reviewer living in Grimsby on the east coast of England and to receive an e-mail from a band based on the Isle of Bute in the West of Scotland. They asked if I would review their debut CD.
Now, I can drive to their base of Rothesay, and even with the queuing for the ferry, STILL make it in a day. Yet such is the dense and varied cultural mix of these British Isles that one cannot be sure quite what to expect from the postman. An American living in Southern California and driving to Northern California, need not take his “cultural passport” with him.
And so when this album arrived, I opened it with a measure of curiosity. At first I was put off by the liner booklet, where the lyrics are juxtaposed alongside some irritatingly pretentious photographs. But I wasn’t going to hold THAT against them.
I pressed “play” and was immediately reassured. They are a 5 strong group that make a full and confident sound. I guess you could (at a pinch!) call it a “Celtic” sound - the bodrhan is in evidence – but the lack of a piper amongst the personnel makes it more down the road of a classic “folk rock” sound whose provenance could as easily be west coast of AMERICA as Scotland.
Their repertoire is eclectic to say the least. Most successful are their interpretations of established songs in the canon: I never thought I could take yet another version of “Wild Mountain Thyme” (here called “Wild Mountain”: they must know something I don’t!), but their slightly rocked-up version is darned good, and the highlight of the album. Also hot on its heels in terms of merit is a very good (and yes ORIGINAL!) version of “The Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” (here called just “Lomond”).
Ah! The penny has just dropped. They amend the song’s title so you can have prior warning that they are NOT interested in trotting out yet another hackneyed version of a song where the chewing gum lost its flavour YEARS ago. And by golly, with “Lomond”, they show REAL intelligence in their sensitive revisiting of this most famous of traditional Scottish lyrics. Almost made me feel I was listening to it for the first time.
No such luck with their version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Competent. But they did not really put their fingerprints on it.
As for their own songs, I cannot say that I was as impressed. Hey, I have heard much worse, but on the evidence of this album, their strength lies in interpreting quality songs, not writing their own.
The four instrumentalists sound like they could really DELIVER on a Saturday night gig. That is NOT a put-down, by the way. Au contraire, it is the highest praise. So many studio bands cannot cut the mustard when push comes to shove.
But I have kept my REAL praise until last. They have a vocalist called Debbie Dawson: I can see that nicely alliterative name up in lights. She has really GOT it, this girl. She can handle a lyric. I would love to see her handling the sophisticated lyrics of a Cole Porter. That ain’t gonna happen, I know. But there surely are subtle songs in the Sandy Denny/Iris Dement/Mary Black/Nanci Griffith-type repertoire that are up both her and the band’s street.
She is one of those singers that most of us will never hear about. Here on the British folk scene, there are about ten female singers getting all the radio plays. Two are hyped beyond belief. Yet, I have a hunch that there are better ones “writing on the subway walls”: that is to say, singers who will never be famous.
I tell you, on the evidence of this CD, Debbie Dawson is as good as any of the current female stars on the British scene. She may not become known to the wider British public, let alone the world. And that will be a crying shame.
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