Dougie MacLean,
The Dougie MacLean Collection
(Putumayo World Music, 1995)

The Dougie MacLean Collection certainly seemed worthy of review. This guy has been writing songs since the 1970s and performing with great names such as the Tannahill Weavers and Silly Wizard. His song "Caledonia" is known to some as the "unofficial anthem" of Scotland. Dougie (pronounced "doo-gee") earned a gold record for two cuts from the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack, too. With credentials like these, how could you go wrong? Well....

This is an inarguably decent album, but if you're a fan of folk music with energy, this is no place to waste precious time. Now, I am a big fan of acoustic folk music, but from the beginning to the end, the chant-like tempos lack even a hint of foot-movin' groove. Maybe a sway here and there, but its definitely a slowly pulsed album. A full-sized drum kit would've been a nice touch.

The collection would make a good movie soundtrack. Lyrically, it's very personal. Sadly, all the songs are almost captivating, but they seem to lack that necessary drive to waken their somber overtones. A concert-level fiddler would do wonders here. If Johnny Cunningham was to tour with MacLean, the result would be incredible.

To insure the sobering effect of his works, the Highland-type pennywhistle melodies and elementary hand percussion beats join in to soothe those left awake by track 6, "The Search." "The Search" is reminiscent of a Native American-style instrumental with a snare drum, but it's another MacLean sleeper. Hearing it, I can envision the exploration of an uncharted land. It's short, but powerful. But if you aren't fully awake and feeling creative, have a pillow handy.

What Dougie does do well is use folk music to cry out about his heritage. Song craftsmanship and arrangements are thoughtful. He has become known for singing words which reflect a Scottish patriot concerned with the erosion of his country's land and society. The words he chooses are often uplifting, but still seem to be delivered in a tongue-in-cheek tone which is, ultimately, depressing -- particularly due to the minor scales he prefers to play in. As for the overall musicianship....

Dougie does play numerous instruments, although judging from this album, he is not the most technically proficient player of any of them. On this collection, he plays guitar, fiddle, keys, whistle and percussion, plus vocals. Notably, his guitar playing does little to stand out and attract attention, serving only to support the vocal motion. This would normally be OK with me, but he plays the only stringed instrument on the majority of the songs.

In defense of MacLean, "Caledonia" is a brilliant song. He spent some time crafting melodic motion for this track. It carries me off to the farm where I spent my youth. It's rootsy and a bit tear-jerking on a generic level that we can all connect with. (Still, I much prefer Jerry Timlin's version on his CD, The Flower of Sweet Strabane.)

Other hot spots include the ancestral patronizing "Solid Ground," which is loaded with instruments. Lullaby lovers will delight in "Singing Land" and "This Love Will Carry."

I've read a review calling Dougie the "James Taylor" of Scotland, as well as that country's "pre-eminent singer/songwriter." Musically, a more acceptable description would call him the eighth-grade version of Taylor. The only comparison that emerges on this album between MacLean and Taylor is the acoustic guitar and lyrical content that speaks of his homeland. A better connection could be drawn between MacLean and Jackson Browne, who is more of a strummy guitarist than Taylor.

I assume these songs will find their way to many campfires around Scotland, but they will most likely remain on her native shores.

[ by John Varner ]



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