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MARY SMITH/ MAIRI NIC A' GHOBHAINN 'Sgiath Airgid' Macmeanmna SKYECD27

This beautiful collection of 15 songs from the Ness region of Lewis, other Hebridean islands, and one song from Donegal, has finally allowed me to hear Mary Smith's voice; fellow Lewiswoman Alyth McCormack has mentioned that she learned songs from her. Her lovely voice offers a clarity of tone that evokes a rich tapestry of images as I listen (Gaelic song does tend to have this effect on me!), and it somehow seems right to use Smith's Gaelic name - Mairi Nic a' Ghobhainn - in this review - so I shall.

This is, unbelievably, Nic a' Ghobhainn's first album - I'm very pleased that she recorded it. The fact that she's selected little known, but very beautiful songs will strike many listeners - she's enriched the store of Gaelic songs available commercially in releasing this collection. The sleeve notes and translations are immensely helpful too. She's enlisted the help of some fine musicians. Their contributions are unfailingly sensitive, and fit the very traditional 'feel' of the material perfectly - just a couple of the songs are sung unaccompanied. If I quote the musician line up you'll get the picture immediately - Malcolm Stitt (guitar/cittern), Ingrid Henderson (clarsach/keys), Aidan O'Rourke (fiddle), and Iain MacDonald (pipes/flute/whistle/percussion). Backing vocals are by Allan MacDonald, Kathleen MacInnes and Catriona Mackinnon.

The more rousing tunes are wonderful. There's a lively fishing song from Barra, 'Bata Dhomhnaill A Chrogain'; there are some excellent waulking songs, including 'He Na Filibhig' where Henderson's clarsach playing glistens; there's a very fine rowing song from Ness ('An t'Iorram Niseach'), which we're told was heard right up to the mid 20th Century. A Hebridean way of life long gone, it seems - there's progress for you! A splendid song from Morag Macleod's collection, 'Ill a Bho Dhubh', is also included here.

There are many beautiful love songs too, including the 19th Century 'Cul Do Chinn', where the singer pines for her long-emigrated Angus; there's 'A Fhleasgaich Ghuanaich', sung unaccompanied. The lyrics, when I read them in translation, are full of moments of parting, longing and sorrow, and yet still offer nice humorous touches; in 'Cul Do Chinn', the singer is relieved "that peats are incapable of speech, on that cold Christmas night when we sat by the peatstack"! Iain MacDonald leads in on plaintive pipes on ''Marbhrann do Mhacleoid', a powerful lament from a sister to a brother killed during the reign of Charles II.

If you enjoy Gaelic song, this is one to treasure.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 58 of The Living Tradition magazine.