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MacKenzie - Camhanach
MacKENZIE "Camhanach" Macmeanmna SKYECD10

It is a small label but in Ishbel MacAskill's "Sioda" and Maeve MacKinnon's "Fo Smuain" it already has two of the best gaelic albums released in the last few years. It now has a third with the release of "Camhanach" by the sisters Fiona, Gillian and Eilidh MacKenzie. This CD, the first by the sisters as a group, differs from the other two mentioned in that it includes a great deal more instrumentation and plays fast and loose with arrangements. From the rich opening bars of Wendy Weatherby's Cello, via Gospel country to the "Precenting" style finale, the CD teases and flirts with the listener. One minute there is a lump the size of Lewis in your throat the next you are wearing out the leather on your sole.

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. The girls can sing. Eilidh in particular has an expressive and emotional voice but Fiona and Gillian hold their own. Whether in unison or in harmony the girls voices provide a strong base on which a veritable who's who of musicians build textured and layered arrangements which take a number of listens to fully reveal themselves.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this CD is that many of the songs were composed by the sisters. It is refreshing to hear new gaelic material especially when it is of the quality offered here. Eilidh provides the bulk of the new songs as well as a version of "A Fagail Ghriais" which can also be found on Eilidh's 1992 solo CD "Eideadh Na Sgeulachd". There is also a slight Cape Breton Influence with the inclusion of Farquhar Fraser's 'Ho Ro's Toigh Leam Fhin Thu'.

Three of the girls' songs bring the CD to a glorious climax. The first is a quite remarkable piece of gaelic country gospel which is nowhere near as naff as that description sounds. Using pedal steel guitar and Coisir Sgire a Bhac; (Back Ladies Choir or Loadsaweeminsinging as the notes put it) the girls create a piece which hits a soft spot every time. "Is E Cho Priseil Dhomh" is followed by some funky rocking as the girls let their hair down a bit. In contrast the final track "Leabaidh Naoimh Aula" gets back to the sisters roots in lewis. Roddy MacKenzie (dad) starts the track using the precenting style which is incredibly moving and allows the girls to pick up from that emotion as they move into the song, and slay the listener with aching harmonies before the pipes wring the last vestiges of emotion from them. A quite stunning arrangement of a song that I'm sure will be picked up by other singers ...

Overall this is a beautifully crafted CD which has had lots of thought and imagination put into it. Yet the sisters have not forgotten where their tradition is anchored, and have kept the 'Gaelic' feel intact. The delightful singing would probably been enough but when allied to the sensitive and clever arrangements the CD becomes a bit special. Recommended.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 27 of The Living Tradition magazine.