various artists,
The Rough Guide to Scottish Folk
(World Music Network, 2000)

These Rough Guide CDs make for excellent introductions to music from cultures and places all over the world. Few places offer the musical depth of tradition as Scotland, of course, and this CD features a plethora of great music blending the old with the new of that land. I should point out that I know virtually nothing about Scottish music, so I really can't do much in the way of putting the featured artists in a proper context; the best I can do is offer my impressions of the 19 tracks in question.

There is a lot of variety packed into 70-some minutes; if you think Scottish music means bagpipes and more bagpipes, you know even less about it than I do. Certainly, you'll get a little bagpipe music here, but you'll also hear some fantastic guitar, fiddle, harp, pipes, whistles and a lot of other instruments I can hardly pronounce, let alone describe adequately.

I was familiar with the name, if not the music, of one featured artist: Capercaillie, one of the most prominent Gaelic bands out there; not only is the group represented here with "The Tree," their famed singer Karen Matheson contributes an impressive Gaelic tune called "Rithill Aill." This brings up an obvious point: you will hear a lot more Gaelic than English vocals on this album; Gaelic truly is a more beautiful, musically emotive language; the drawback, of course, is that few of us understand any of the words. By my count, only three of these tunes feature English vocals.

Silly Wizard leads the way in the English vocals department, as far as I'm concerned, with a live recording of "The Queen of Argyll," my favorite track on the album. Wolfstone isn't far behind them, though, imparting a wonderfully full and busy sound to their track "Heart & Soul." Then there is "Dirty Old Town" by the late Ewan MacColl, one of the most important and influential figures in the preservation and perpetuation of British folk music.

Mac-Talla delivers arguably the most poignant song on the album with "Griogal Cridhe," a Gaelic lament and lullaby dating all the way back to 1570 (yes, 1570). Mac-Talla's Christine Primrose also offers a beautiful Gaelic song of her own, "Tha M'Eudail Is M'Aighear 'S Mo Grandh" (a song that probably dates to the 18th century). Then there's the much more energetic "'S Gann Gunn Dirich Mi Chaoidh" from folk revival band Ossian.

All of the remaining tracks, if I'm not mistaken, are instrumentals. I'm not a big fan of instrumentals, but there are some really impressive ones on this album, ranging from the evocative to the frenetic. You've got the haunting pipes of Rory Campbell & Malcolm Stitt, an unusually pleasing waltz from Fiddlers Five, harp-playing at its finest from Alison Kinnaird on "The Crags of Ailsa/Staffa's Shore," fiddle mastery at the hands of Jonny Hardie & Gavin Marwick, and amazing reels from the likes of Tannahill Weavers, Ross Kennedy & Archie McAllister, and Aly Bain and his former teacher Tom Anderson. Whirligig blends the traditional and the modern in fine fashion with "The Harper/Lady Catherine Ogle," and John D. Burgess, the "King of Highland Pipers," closes out the album with the incomparable bagpipe strains of "The Swallow-Tailed Coat/Turf Lodge."

This CD represents only a tiny dip in the immense pool of Scottish music, but it definitely does do a wonderful job showcasing the variety and unique sounds of a land where music seems to be a vital if not essential part of life.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 13 August 2005

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