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JOHN MacDONALD - "The Singing Molecatcher of Morayshire"
Greentrax CDTRAX9053

DAVIE STEWART - "Davie Stewart" Greentrax CDTRAX9052

Two more CDs from the Greentrax "Classics From Scotland" series. Both of these artists were more than makers and carriers of songs, they were also carriers of singing and performing styles and a link to unrecorded and unnoted singers and players. Both men had a fondness for the button box, the older songs and ballads and one or other forms of stylised vocal music. John MacDonald performs some Lallan mouth music or as many call it, diddling, and Davie Stewart treats us to some Canntaireachd on a set of pipe tunes.

John MacDonald worked around farms all his days. He had time for some sidelines though, including molecatching, melodeon repairing and performing as part of a concert party. Most of the material here is much in the style as would have been heard around the ferm toons and bothys. "Sleepytoon", "Mains o' Fogieloan" and "The Ball o' Kirriemeer" all grew as a reflection of the bothy system, while the older songs, "Lord Ronald", "The Haughs o' Cromdale", "Bonnie Hoose o' Airlie" and "The Dewy Dens o' Yarrow" were all accepted as part of the same culture. John's clear, unhurried style allows the dramas of the narratives to unfold at their own pace. There is no attempt to colour or underline or to play-off one part of the lyric against the other. The story is the message and the song is the medium. This is a style that can be heard on many recordings of older singers but is rarely to be heard nowadays.

Davie Stewart's singing was very much different and is described in the sleeve notes by Hamish Henderson as "fluid and improvisatory". Davie's style is of the singing and storytelling traditions of the travelling people. With Davie, there is a fierceness of attack; a raw direct telling of the story and a bravado in the performance. Indeed Davie Stewart was a performer and these are recordings of performances and not studio recordings. His songs were learned as he travelled and he sang and played in bothys and pubs, around camp fires, street corners and to cinema and theatre queues. Latterly he was also to be heard at clubs and festivals as well. The songs take on new lives with his singing and include grand versions of "MacPherson's Rant", "The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow", "The Jolly Begger", "I'm Often Drunk and I'm Seldom Sober" and "The Merchant's Son".

Peter Fairbairn

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This album was reviewed in Issue 29 of The Living Tradition magazine.