The Blood is Strong
(Survival, 1988; reissued, 1995)
The original The Blood is Strong album was released in 1988. The 19 tracks are music from the Grampian Television/Channel 4 series of the same title on the Gaelic Scots. The 1995 re-release includes six extra tracks at the beginning of the album. The first three are from the ITV series Highlanders (1995) and the next three from the ITV series Prince Among Islands (1992). The re-release includes all the original 19 tracks, too.
The Original Album
This album is one of Capercaillie's most pleasing when considered in its entirety. Although there are perhaps less highlight tracks than some of the later albums, the whole creates a harmonious unity. Many of the tracks are quite short, as is often the case in TV and film music, although they are always very atmospheric. For what was only the band's third release, it is a highly polished and assured production.
Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, Marc Duff and Charlie McKerron are joined for the first time by John Saich (guitar and bass), who was in the band for a decade -- his last recording with them was Beautiful Wasteland (1997). Anton Kirkpatrick (guitar) contributes for the only time to a Capercaillie album here.
The monotone photograph of the band on the original album's CD sleeve is quite a brooding one, suggesting something perhaps of the new edge that has been brought to the music. Indeed, the album's key feature is more of an ethereal ambience that is introduced immediately by the first song, "Aignish," with Matheson's sublime singing simply accompanied by Shaw's keyboard.
Through the album the band creates a more expansive sound than the first two albums. "The Hebrides" is marked by Saich's dominant bass and perhaps announces the arrival of the band as a Celtic supergroup. "Arrival Theme" is a very characteristic Capercaillie composition with complex instrumentation, yet it also manages to sound towards the end of the tune like something played at an impromptu pub session. This canny combination of the complex and simple has been such a feature of the band's music over the years.
There is a wide range of material through the album. The prominent ethereal tone is obvious in tracks like "Cumha Do dh'Uilleam Siosal," with its confident use of haunting synthesized sounds, "Iona Theme" that has a serenity capturing the island's spirit and "Lordship of the Isles" that reaches into the heart of Gaelic history. "Alasdair Mhic Colla" is one of the band's most recorded numbers and an ever present at gigs well into the 1990s. It is a highly unusual but effective Capercaillie song with its robust backing vocals provided by the whole band and a strong bass line. There are achingly beautiful songs like "Dean Cadalan Samhach," a deeply moving lullaby with its great reverence in exile for the homeland, and "An Ataireachd Ard" with lilting recorder and stunning singing that evokes the contrast between the eternal sea and human transience. This song is memorably included in an adapted version in Matheson's second solo album Time to Fall (2002). "'S Fhada Leam An Oidhche Gheamhraidh" is another song of longing for home and is notable for its harp accompaniment by Rhona Mackay. There are also upbeat tunes like "Calum's Road," with its lyrical accordion, and the American-sounding "Grandfather Mountain." Yet it seems fitting that the album concludes with a serene love song, "Maighdeanan Na H-Airidh," first heard on Capercaillie's debut album Cascade but sung more expansively here.
As well as the traditional songs, arranged by Capercaillie, there are original compositions by the band as well as songs by named band members and others. Production was by the band itself and Bernd Schulze. Much of the text on the back of the original album's CD sleeve is illegible due to its tiny type, but thankfully it was reproduced for the re-release in a readable format!
The six extra tracks here are of the highest quality. "An Gille Ban" is closely related to Cascade's "An T-Iarla Diurach" but is a markedly contemporary adaptation with more resonant singing and richer instrumentation. "Domhnall/Black Donald" has a beautiful simplicity with effective backing vocals. "An t-Eilean Mu Thuath" is another wonderful, soothing song; I can remember well how peaceful it seemed when I heard it for the first time.
"Fagail Bhernaraidh/Leaving Berneray" is a magnificent song by John MacLeod and Shaw with a poignancy that is almost painful. The keyboard accompaniment manages to achieve both a simple piano touch and a more complex synthesized atmosphere. If I had to pick one highlight from Capercaillie's first three albums, then this 1992 song would be my choice for its emotional intensity alone. "The Lorn Theme" has a sense of exuberance while "Gun Teann Mi Ris Na Ruinn Tha Seo/Remembrance" returns to the dominant ethereal tone also captured in the evocative photograph of Matheson on the sleeve of the re-release.
These extra tracks were produced by the band. Given the later recording dates I am presuming not all the musicians featured are the same as on the original album tracks, although the sleeve notes do not make reference to this.
by Andy Jurgis