Ian F. Benzie,
I'se The B'y
(Lochshore, 2001)

Ian Benzie's second solo album, I'se The B'y is a pleasing mix of traditional songs. The album features songs in Scots and Doric languages mixed with romantic ballads in an excellent variety of instrumental settings. The pace is fairly mellow and makes for easy and comfortable listening which is enhanced by Benzie's talent for delightful arrangements.

Formerly of Scotland's Old Blind Dogs, Benzie provides vocals and acoustic guitar on this album and is ably joined by several others. Carol Anderson plays the fiddle; Davy Cattanach provides drums, percussion, backing vocals and acoustic, electric and slide guitars; Mark Duff adds whistles, recorders, bouzouki and bodhran; Graeme "Bug" Stephen appears on Spanish, electric and bass guitars; and Niall Mathewson plays the electric guitar and keyboards.

One of the many strengths of this album is simply the power of Benzie's voice. He has incredibly rich, emotive vocals that are consistent throughout the recording. Several tracks on this album really highlight Benzie's voice. "Lowlands Away" and "The Clearances" both feature minimal accompaniment while allowing Benzie's smooth and steady vocals to shine. His knack for expression is clear in "Lady Keith's Lament" and "Bogie's Bonnie Bell."

Now, vocals are all fine and good, but if an artist is unable to put songs together in a way which appeals to listeners, then the effect is lost. Fortunately, Benzie passes this test with flying colours. The arrangement of this album is particularly well done -- right from instrumental arrangements to the ordering of songs within the album. Each track is arranged such that Benzie's vocals clearly shine, but the ample talent of the instrumentalists is quite obvious as well, and they have plenty of share in the spotlight. This technique succeeds in adding variety to the album and keeping the listener's interest.

"The Martinmas Time" features some wonderful fiddling, great guitar harmonies and good backing vocals. "The Scranky Black Farmer" is one of my favorites -- both bouzouki and percussion is outstanding, and blends extremely well with the guitar and fiddle. In "Cam' Ye Ower Fae France," some excellent percussion is complemented by well-played bass, guitar and whistles. Similarly, the percussion (which I am quite fond of throughout the album) stands out in "The Bells of Rhymney," while bouzouki, guitars and bass add to a pleasant overall sound. "Gi'e me a Lass Wi' a Lump of Land" has a rather different, almost jazzy style which -- although somewhat incongruent with other tracks on the album -- works well. "Canadiee-i-o" provides a strong finish to the album, once again comprised of well-arranged and well-played instrumentals complementing Benzie's vocal talent.

All told, this somewhat mellow album is composed of excellent arrangements and vocals and contains a good variety of traditional songs. I believe that it will appeal both to those who desire old, traditional-style lyrics to be brought to life by a fine voice and by those who enjoy the sound of well-played traditional instruments in pleasing arrangements.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 16 June 2002