The Cottars,
On Fire
(Greentrax, 2005)

Age is not an issue in folk music. The older performer brings us experience and tradition. The younger brings new life and vigour to the canon of great music. These are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in folk music the mixture is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Never has this been truer than on an album by a family group aged between 14 and 17 years. You have to hear this CD to believe that the four people featured have a combined age younger than many of our revered performers.

Opening with the fantastic Dougie MacLean song, "Ready for the Storm," the Cottars set a tone and standard that never falters over the dozen tracks on offer. Hearing Steeleye Span perform it inspired their version of "Calling On Song."

Alongside wonderful vocal abilities the Cottars display serious musical ability as well as the confidence and nerve to experiment. This is never at the expense of the music. On a wonderful bodhran and fiddle medley, they give us robust renditions of three reels and for good measure add drumming and step dancing.

"Hair standing on the back of the neck" time comes with "Loch Tay Boat Song." This could easily replace the Skye song if it got wider airplay. I also loved "Cape Breton Lullaby." It shows the ability to slow things down and still mesmerise an audience.

Canada comes to life on the marvelous track written by Wade Hemsworth and recorded by the Travellers back when 45rpm singles were the way to hear music.

The instrumental offerings on this album are brilliant. One of the best is "The Guitar Jigs." Apparently it is a common practice on Cape Breton to use the guitar to play tunes normally heard on fiddle or bagpipes. It works.

Ron Kavana wrote "Reconciliation." Like the best of folk it uses metaphor to tell the tale -- this time it is conflict in Ireland represented by a pair of lovers. If you were to buy an album for one song, you would get brilliant value if this were the CD and the track was "The Parting Glass." OK, you have heard it before. You have it on a dozen albums. So do I but few of them can better this version. The blending of vocals, instruments and pure love of performing make it a classic. I know it has hints of "Auld Lang Syne" on lots of renditions but I believe that if this version gets around the Burns song could have a replacement on New Years Eve, concert finales and house parties.

by Nicky Rossiter
8 October 2005

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