This review is written by Dai Woosnam,firstname.lastname@example.org, 4/02
First, do not confuse this band with the short-lived Irish outfit of blessed memory from the early 70s, "Skara Brae". These are apparently Scots (though the CD alas contains no liner notes to provide either song or biographical data). This would seem to be the debut album from a four strong group, based in Thurso, a coastal town perched on the very top of Scotland. And in some ways, rather good it is.
But that said, as someone with a good measure of Celtic blood in me, I have to tell you that it may well have been produced “through Celtic EYES”, but to these Celtic EARS, there seems precious little that is “Celtic” about it.
What we have is a majority of self-penned stuff, very competently performed. But there are occasions when the album is more redolent of West Coast rock, than anything that I can identify as Celtic.
The compelling driving rock guitar brings to mind Carlos Santana: the vocals are sung in English throughout; and the power-drumming (occasionally a bit too manic for me) gives the CD a singularly un-folkie feel, despite the insertion of that great old favourite of a myriad folk clubs, The McPeake Family’s “Wild Mountain Thyme”.
Now, maybe Thurso has changed a lot since the distant days when I used to stay at the Royal Hotel in the town, and perhaps it is now a buzzing metropolis, and not the sleepy little place that I remember. And maybe, just maybe, this sound indeed IS the new “Celtic”!
Certainly, I am impressed that they sing in English. No, NOT because I consider English intrinsically superior to the Gaelic – indeed, I defend to the death one man’s right to speak Gaelic to another - but because on the Ocean of Language, Gaelic is a rowing-boat to the QE2 of English. And as, like most of the people reading this, I too am a monoglot, and since “appreciating the lyric” is something that any songwriter worth his salt WANTS from his audience most of all, well………….then English is the obvious linguistic choice.
So, to sum up: the album has a good “feel” to it. The felicitously-named Gloria Swanson has a decent-enough voice. I look forward to Skara’s next album: hopefully their own compositions will be stronger, as their songs here forgo memorability. (Yeah, this makes me think THIS Gloria Swanson can STILL be a star: it is just the SONGS that’s gotten smaller!)
For instance, “The Caithness Shore” is one of those pleasant songs seemingly written on auto-pilot: I have heard a hundred similar, even down to the waves crashing on the shore at the fade-out. Now, I still remember Caithness as a distinctive jewel of a county: so, come on Skara, and let us have a Caithness anthem that is likely to bring a tear to the eye of expatriates, and make them pour a wee dram into their Caithness Crystal whisky glass. There is a “Fields Of Athenry” there somewhere. I am sure there is a chance you can dig it out.
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