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SEELYHOO - "The First Caul" - Greentrax CDTRAX 102

Seelyhoo's members, Edinburgh based but Orcadian at heart, bring together experience gained in Ceolbeg, Burach and, significantly, the Wrigley Sisters. The First Caul (Seelyhoo is an old Scots word for the membrane sometimes found covering a new born baby's head, signifying good luck) is an accomplished debut brimming with full-bodied, vibrant sounds. The lion's share of the album is tunes (sixty five percent self-penned), often fiddle (Jennifer Wrigley) or accordion (Sandy Brechin) led. The opening Miss Sarah MacFadyen/Farewell to Rock o'Cleary sweeps us confidently into a succession of sets of varied pace with wisely used keyboard, percussion and bass backing.

However it's their ability to raise the energy and urgency in the course of a single song which grabs the attention. Hoy's Dark and Lofty Isle is a remarkable and truly heart wrenching tale of a sailor dying on deck in sight of his native shore, garnered from Meg Loutit of Orkney. Hazel Wrigley's keyboard moves from haunting to swaggering and defiant, and this track is worth the price of the album alone. Jennifer Wrigley handles the awkward phrasing of the vocals well and the quiver in her voice adds to the mood. Her scarily young and fragile singing also builds in confidence through Air Sgiathan na hOidhche, a Murdo Morrison paean to the Isle of Harris. Jennifer's singing will grow in strength but for now it is more than winsome and shrewdly recorded. Only on the least traditional song, "The Walk", do Seelyhoo slip up. It's an uncertain song which was probably fun to record but sits uneasily in the joyous dash to the finish of a splendid album.

The confidence of youth allows tunes like "The First Leg/The Last Leg" to be at once laid back yet expansive, and a lament eulogy like the traditional Mhurchaidh Bhig a Chinn a Chonnais to be upbeat, flowing easily into a reel. They're not afraid of the odd jazz piano inflection either.

This is a very, very promising debut, only that difficult second album will tell if they've used all their best material.

Kevin Cooper

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This album was reviewed in Issue 15 of The Living Tradition magazine.