Eddi Reader, |
Sings the Songs of Robert Burns
(Rough Trade, 2003; Compass, 2004)
Eddi Reader plays a real blinder with this album. She mines the rich seam of Roberts Burns' poetry (with one fine contribution by contemporary Ayrshire songwriter John Douglas), recruits some of Scotland's finest acoustic instrumentalists and the entire string section of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, then adds her own glorious voice to the mixture. It's hard to believe that most of these poems and songs were penned 200 years ago. Burns' influence on Scottish culture cannot be understated.
This collection was premiered to great acclaim at Glasgow's world-class Celtic Connections Festival in January 2003. Production by Boo Hewerdine is excellent -- Reader's vocals have a live, spontaneous sound about them. And what an enjoyable way of dipping into some of your favourite Burns poetry! They're all here: songs of love, lust, bawdiness and seduction, vying for position with songs about the futility of war, nostalgia and celebration. The acoustic arrangements are masterly; some of the UK's very finest musicians appear on this album, including John McCusker, Ian Carr, Phil Cunningham, Christine Hanson, Boo Hewerdine and Ewen Vernal. Together they create a wonderful, earthy, magnificently Scottish sound. Add to this Reader's breathy, emotion-packed vocals and the ravishing string arrangements of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (conducted by Kevin McCrae), and you have a very special recording indeed.
Burns, son of a poor Ayrshire cotter and a prodigiously gifted wordsmith, was inspired by his love of life, his passion for his women, his Jacobite loyalties, his empathy with his fellow worker and the beauty of the landscape around him -- these songs are as relevant today as they ever were.
The slower numbers make for stunning listening; McCrae's string arrangements are a stunning accompaniment to Reader's vocals on "My Love is Like a Red Red Rose," "Ae Fond Kiss," "Wild Mountainside" (by Douglas), "John Anderson My Jo," "Winter It is Past" and "Auld Lang Syne." Reader uses her voice beautifully, ranging the scales sublimely.
On the very contemporary-sounding "Jamie Come Try Me," Reader's voice is teasingly coquettish, brimming with emotion as she implores Jamie to come and be her love. "Willie Stewart" is a very fine song; you can almost sense the door being flung open wide, the party warming up nicely inside and the drinks flowing freely as you listen to the joyfully sung words "You're welcome, Willie Stewart/there's ne'er a flower that blooms in May/that's half so welcome's thou art!" At the song's close, Cunningham leads the band on "Molly Rankin," a rousing Cape Breton tune -- you know the craic's going to go on for a good while yet! "Brose and Butter" is bawdy indeed; the lyrics here are the "toned down" version of the eye-opening original -- one of the more quotable lines is "Jenny was up at the laft (loft), Johnny was glad to be at her!" "Charlie is My Darling," which McCusker finds reminiscent of a "jazzy brothel band," is another very saucy song. The kilted Charlie, with Jenny atop his lap, surely "kent (knew) the way to please a highland lass!" Some of the lyrics on this album are not at all the versions you'll find in your old school text books -- they're Burns' more risque (and very enjoyable) rewrites!
"Ye Jacobites" is a song so relevant to our troubled times, condemning the futility of war as a means of resolving conflict. Burns laments "bloody war," which serves only to "haunt a parent's life." Far better to "Leave your schemes alone, adore the rising sun, and leave a man alone, to his fate, to his fate." What words of wisdom, beautifully sung.
This is a great album.