ARTISTS "The Complete Songs of Robert
Volumes 6 & 7" Linn Records CKD 099 & 107
With these releases, this monumental project is now more than two thirds complete. Approaching them, having heard the earlier volumes, it is hard to imagine that they can possibly maintain, never-mind surpass the standard of their predecessors - prepare to be amazed.
Continuing the blend of combining artists from earlier phases of the revival with the cream of the current club and festival favourites, Volume 6 gives us Mae McKenna (fondly remembered from Contraband and her subsequent solo career), Ed Miller, Elspeth Cowie and James Malcolm, while Volume 7 has Bobby Eaglesham (Skerries, Other Half and Five Hand Reel), George Duff, Aimee Leonard and Karine Polwart. Gillian Macdonald, John Morran and Alistair Hulett appear on both.
Once again instrumental support is supplied by an array of talent so vast that you can only wonder how Fred Freeman managed to assemble them all in the one place and time. Their presence speaks volumes for the respect that the performers have for Dr. Freeman, and this project.
The songs range from the familiar, "Awa, Whigs, awa!", "John Anderson my jo", "Highland laddie" and "Charlie he's my darling" (reclaimed from the shortbread tin), to many unfamiliar songs, perhaps here being performed for the first time since Burns lifetime, in any semblance of the manner in which he intended This, however, is far from a dry academic exercise. The vitality, and conviction, of these performances is such, that it is hard to believe that any of the performers learned their songs solely for the project. You never get the feeling that anyone is reading words from a page, these performances come from the heart. In addition, the fact that the recording for each volume takes place over a five day period, lends each volume a live feel and a sense of unity that could not be achieved by more protracted methods.
Given the nature of the project, it is remarkable that there are no weak tracks, however Burns writing, and the performers' singing and playing are consistently high throughout.
No two people will listen to these CDs and come up with a duplicate list of favourites. My personal highlights were Karine Polwart's "As I was a wandering", Gillian Macdonald's "Cragieburn Wood", Ed Miller's " When first I came to Stewart Kyle" and Volume 7s stormer of an opener, "The Captain's Lady" by John Morran.
I especially enjoyed Alistair Hulett's contributions. He captures Burns passion and conviction, perhaps born from a shared view of universal brotherhood - listen to his powerful "Geordie", Burns considerably fuller telling of one of the revivals favourite songs. Fans of any of the artists featured on these CDs can buy the volume with their favourite, in the sure knowledge that they will find much more to delight them. But be warned - these CDs are addictive - one is never enough.
The more I listen to this series, the more I feel the need of a companion book, giving, in addition to texts and tunes, the sources and the stories behind the songs. How about it Dr Fred?