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VARIOUS ARTISTS "Complete Songs of Robert Burns Vol 5"
Linn Records CKD086

Twenty two tracks showing some of the complex facets of Burns - patriot, humanitarian, sexist braggart, philosopher, and makar of some of the finest songs of the Scottish tradition. I'd probably prefer the tracks to be distilled to about sixteen from a viewpoint of listening pleasure, as there's a bit of ballast here and there, although as an academic work titled "The Complete ...", with new recordings spread over 12 volumes of all 368 songs by Burns, no one can complain about any lack of comprehensiveness. Nor about interpretation, as some of Scotland's finest are lined up here.

James Malcolm does brilliantly with "The Lovely Lass of Inverness" and "Caledonia", Davy Steele romps entertainingly through "Masonic Song" but Jamie McMenemy draws the short straw with the truly dreadful "The Lass that Made the Bed to Me". Dire tune and even more dire lyrics full of sniggering innuendo along the lines of "she may say no, but she'll say yes with persistence ..." type of junk role model that's helped many a Scottish male make an arse of himself down the ages, though the singer does his best and gets his rewards with two superior songs elsewhere.

Surprises? I never knew Burns was credited with "John Barleycorn", nor "Johnie Blunt" - wonder if Martin Carthy knows?

The instrumentalists read like a Scottish "Who's who" - John McCusker, Ian Lowthian, Simon Thoumire, Tony McManus, etc., complementing the vocals from Ian F. Benzie, Corrina Hewatt and John Morran. And last but by no stretch of the imagination least, Elspeth Cowie is worthy of a separate mention as she just goes on getting better and better. The sombre maturity of "Thou Has Left Me Ever, Jamie" is offset by as sprightly enjoyable a version of "Braw Braw Lads on Yarrow Braes" as I've heard (and around these parts I've heard a few).

Good album, with strong singing and excellent musicianship.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 31 of The Living Tradition magazine.