Steve Byrne,
Songs From Home
(Greentrax, 2006)

"I am an addict of the lyric voice of my home county, Angus." It seems that folksong and the work of the Angus poets are inextricably linked for Malinky founding member Steve Byrne -- a musician who is constantly in demand as a highly accomplished accompanist by the likes of the Emily Smith Band.

Songs From Home is a very beautifully crafted album of songs featuring one of Scotland's finest traditional male vocalists -- it's a true, honest voice that constantly betrays Steve's eastern lowland roots.

The album features just two guest musicians, Tore Bruvoll on guitar and Chris Wright on mandolin, and their contributions are very welcome. Steve produced the album himself, and in terms of recording quality, it's excellent; the pristine, clear vocals and mandolin are perfectly balanced by the warm, rich tones of guitar, bouzouki, cittern and bodhran. The playing is exquisitely crafted throughout.

Songs From Home opens with an Angus-dialect song of unrequited love that Steve wrote at age 18, called "The Ither Lass." The poetry that so inspires him was written many years ago by Marion Angus, George Webster Donald, Violet Jacob, Helen B Cruickshank and Alexander Laing.

These are really beautiful lyric poems, including Violet Jacobs' nostalgia-filled "Howe o' the Mearns." There's rhythm and drama in the fine Marion Angus poem, "The Seaward Toon," and in the bodhran-enriched pipe tune, "Pawkie Adam Glen."

Songs From Home is a beautifully sung, timelessly crafted collection that really grows on the listener with each listen, and an album that celebrates a culturally rich area of Scotland. Recommended for listeners who appreciate music that comes from the heart.

by Debbie Koritsas
20 May 2006

Maybe we have been taught Scottish dialects from the popularity of Robbie Burns' compositions that have traveled the world. Steve Byrne is a writer and singer of an almost similar surname, writing and singing in his home dialect, and the magic is recreated.

The connection to the elder Burns is not just in his use of dialect; Byrne was a major force in the four volumes of the Complete Songs of Robert Byrnes. His musical pedigree also features membership of the group Malinky.

If your only knowledge of Angus is the breed of cattle, be prepared to be educated. On this CD you can experience the joys, sorrows and wild beauty of the geographical area as Byrne puts the songs and poems of his native area on the world stage.

His opening track, "The Ither Lass," shows his talent as the first song he wrote in his native dialect at the tender age of 18 years. At the time he was a country lad in the big bold city and thinking of his childhood. "The Bonnie Lass o' Cairnie" is one of the best tracks on offer here. It combines an old poem with some traditional music rearranged by Byrne to produce a wonderful song. For a song of leaving, have a close listen to "Leavin Angus in the Mornin'." Sung without accompaniment, it has the raw sound that people who have ever left their home place will know only too well.

Perhaps the best known of Burns' songs is "Auld Lang Syne" -- another song we love without a clue what it means -- the musical signpost of New Years Eve all over the world. Here Byrne takes a poem by Violet Jacob to give us a song to the Scots version of that celebration, "Hogmanay."

Listening to this album one is reminded of all the great poems that have been written over the centuries. Sadly, poetry reading is a minority pleasure in our hectic age. Steve Byrne helps us recapture that old pleasure by setting poetry to music and seldom does it better than on "Young Jessie o' Bonnie Dundee."

This combination of old and new resonates through the entire album with some very short songs, some unaccompanied pieces and all very well performed tracks. An added bonus is the delightful insert giving the lyrics, background and sources of the songs.

by Nicky Rossiter
20 May 2006