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William Matheson "Gaelic Bards and Minstrels" CDTRAX 9016D

The School of Scottish Studies' Scottish Tradition Series is second-to-none as a source of archive recordings of traditional Scottish song and music and gradually the original recordings are now being re-issued on CD. The latest release is a double CD set with extensive lyrics in both the Gaelic original and English translations, of recordings of William Matheson.

Matheson was a remarkable collector of songs from the Gaelic tradition amassing over the years an almost unique repertoire. During his life he was regarded as an important source of traditional song and was a major aid and influence on traditional singers such as Joan MacKenzie.

This two-CD set features song from the very heart of the Bardic tradition and divides into two distinct forms. On CD one is a collection of Iorram forms, generally associated with eulogaic poetry. On CD two, is a collection of Amhran, the form of bardic construction favoured for elegiac poetry. The material is remarkable for its history, rarity, unique form but equally remarkable as the material is William Matheson's voice. In the true bardic tradition Matheson combines language and music abilities, the intricate lines are sung with precision, emotion and a real sense of life. The language is, of course, without compare.

It would, in all fairness, be easier to write an essay than a review such is the wealth of material contained in this set. These CDs are not simply for the student of the music. In some hands that may well be the case, but Matheson was a singer of great power and this is fully realised on these CDs. The historical significance of Matheson's work is profound. His ability to bring this material to life is nothing short of breath-taking. A collection of rare and unsurpassed eloquence that hopefully, like the many other titles in the series, will continue to inspire interest in and love of the Gaelic culture.

Peter Urpeth

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