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MARTYN BENNETT "Glen Lyon" Foot Stompin' CDFSR1714

What am I doing reviewing an album full of traditional songs sung in Scots Gaelic? After all, I am a monoglot English speaker.

But hey, STOP THERE. I am not remotely on the defensive. Why should I be? After all, the vast majority of Mankind do not have an inkling of this ancient tongue of the Gaels. And presumably, Footstompin want this CD to sell beyond the Gaelic-speaking diaspora, far though that diaspora stretches. So, regard me as the litmus test. And, I think I can give it a vote of approval. But that said, the fact is that one can make no real qualitative judgement as to the quality of the vocals. Oh sure, one knows of the fine reputation of the vocalist here (Martyn's mother, Margaret): but singing is so much more than hitting the right notes. It is the light and shade she puts into the words: the way a singer's INSIGHT into the lyric can show itself in the way that certain words can be made to jump off the page. This vital aspect is lost to the listener when the singer is singing in a language that is foreign to that listener.

But Martyn Bennett does his usual job of adding colour with his formidable ability to build a subtle wall of sound. Add to this his unusual presentation of this CD in a clever CD box which has the CD seemingly coming out of a photo of the "Old Man Of Hoy" -type monolithic rock, that graces Glen Lyon. Good thinking. You can see his mind at work. "Rock of Ages, Cleft for me/Let me hide myself in Thee". In other words, he is saying the music and the place are inextricably linked. And he proves it with some aplomb. But strangely, the standout track is one that features as background the chants and howls of Native Americans, recorded at a Wisconsin pow-wow in 1991. (The "Indian moccasin song".) It stands out as truly atmospheric, in what is throughout an atmospheric album in itself. One bit of nit-picking: the album's title bears the subsidiary title of "A Song Cycle". Now, this is a puzzle. To most of us, that description suggests songs that are closely linked to a theme: here, from the brief translations shown, there would seem to be no common theme apart from the fact they are all sung in Gaelic. Now 15 tracks in ENGLISH would not constitute a song cycle, would it? The album is impressive enough. To add "a song cycle" is just a bit portentous. A touch of "gilding the lily", methinks. And one final thing. The album shows no running times. Why not? Is this somehow "infra dig" with a SONG CYCLE? (Forgive me, I should not jest.) I timed the whole thing at approximately 49 minutes. However, individual track times would be a real aid in obtaining radio plays.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 48 of The Living Tradition magazine.