Andrew White,
Pray for Rain
(Vertical, 2001)

This skillful new recording by Andrew White is very difficult to categorize. White's music is a unique mix of styles. Basically folk in nature, there are strong undertones of blues, and hints of Celtic, classical, new age and even reggae in his music. The result is a laid-back album, strengthened by White's brilliant guitar playing and soulful vocals.

A native of Newcastle, White is rather well-travelled, which may explain the many influences in his music. At 16, he emigrated to New Zealand, and then busked his way around the Antipodes before ending up in America. Since this album was produced in Glasgow, it can be assumed that White is still on the move. This recording features White on acoustic and electric guitars and vocals. Joining him are Donald Shaw (sartarelle accordion, keyboards and programming), Karen Matheson (vocals), Michael McGoldrick (wooden flutes, uillean pipes), Ewen Vernal (double bass, electric bass), James Mackintosh (drums and percussion), Brendan Power (chromatic harmonica, blues harp) and Charlie McKerron (fiddle), as well as a few guest musicians.

When I looked at the list of instruments in the liner notes, the picture on the album cover (featuring some distinctly Scottish-looking cows) and the additional notes which noted that White has toured with such artists as Capercaille, Clannad and the Corrs, thoughts of glee went through my head. "Goody!" I thought. "Flutes, fiddle, uillean pipes, guitars, accordion ... this album is bound to be a contemporary sort of Celtic album." Well ... it's not. Now, don't get me wrong -- it is a very good album, just not what I had expected.

White plays a rhythmic, bluesy sort of guitar on many of the tracks, and has a gentle, husky voice which mixes well with the instrumentals. The arrangements are quite good and rather unique in the combinations of instruments, and how they are used. As I have mentioned, when I saw the list of instruments, I thought to myself, "Celtic." White has included a lot of instruments typical to Celtic music in the arrangements, but the result is quite uncommon. In "Talk about the Moon," White's guitar mixes with accordion, harmonica and wooden flutes to complement the agreeable melody.

"Jerusalem" features White's deft picking style and some wonderful guitar riffs, while "Within these Walls" has a soft, flowing, almost reggae-like feel to it. I like the keyboarding and melody to "Nothing more than this," as well as the display of range in White's voice. Once again, in "Woodsprites Desires," White shows his prowess on the guitar. This is an instrumental piece that seems to have a somewhat classical influence, combined with blues. The other instrumental track on the album, "The Heirophant and the Fool," serves to reinforce my opinion that White is an excellent guitarist. Of course, I would prefer if he was picking out a set of jigs and reels, but that's a matter of my tastes, not his talent.

Now, there is one track that actually has a bit more of a Celtic sound to it, "Summer's Day," which (surprise, surprise) is one of my favorites. It has a great instrumental mix, including guitar, organ, keyboards and percussion, and a really nice little flute bit. I also quite enjoyed "Holy Island." In this track, Karen Matheson's voice joins White's, which I find adds a bit more variety -- even though I like White's vocals, harmonies always add a little spice to the overall sound. The final track on the recording, "Christy Whelan Sings," is a great tribute song to Christy Whelan. I like the addition of the uillean pipes, fiddle and accordion, as well as the keyboard and guitar. Instrumentally, vocally and sentimentally, this is an exceptional song.

So, although Andrew White's style is not entirely my cup of tea, there are a number of songs on the album that I like. In fact, I like all of the songs and tunes -- I just wouldn't listen to them all at once. White's style is a unique, soulful mix, and his guitar playing is extraordinary. Anyone who appreciates a good guitarist against an intricate background of other sounds will be likely to enjoy this album.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001