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VARIOUS ARTISTS "Bothy Songs & Ballads of Northeast Scotland vol.2" SLPYCD006

How refreshing to listen to a CD that does not try to jump on the trendy Celtic bandwagon or overwhelm the singers' voices and words with overdone instrumentation. In fact, the strong masculine voices, rich and earthy as the cultural soil from which they spring are set free to perform their songs in fine authentic unaccompanied style.

Jock Duncan, Tam Reid and Joe Aitken and their friends who have worked on farms, understood the work, the life and the events which their songs celebrate, such as ploughing matches, cattle shows, the feeing of farm servants, threshing and harvesting, rural courtship, drinking and dancing. Therefore they are at ease singing about them. As a result, the listener learns a lot about the values and attitudes of the farming community, the courage, humour and tenderness behind its craggy features and the warmth of its family and social ties.

The exuberant bothy tradition embraced all kinds of songs, and many were not written by bothy chiels, but most of them were sung in the bothies and farm kitchens, where people made their own entertainment. There is always a danger, when a song tradition is driven by nostalgia as the singing of bothy songs now is, that it will become over-romantic and sentimental. But these are not terms you could apply to any of the singers on this CD.

The most touching songs, "Bogie's Bonnie Belle" and "The Dying Ploughboy" are sung by Joe Aitken and Jock Duncan with a warmth and sincerity that transcends mere sentiment. Despite the hardships of the life with "brose for yer brakfast, yer denner an tea", and being out in the fields in all weathers, like the farm servants at "Drumdelgie" or the "Hash o' Bennyoak", the bothy chiels still managed to keep a strong sense of humour and even took delight in word-play, as in "The Plooin Match" and "The Buchan Gairdner".

Besides the well-loved compositions of George Mearns and Willie Kemp, "The Travellin' Mull" and "The Festival o' Keith" by the late Ian Middleton, make this CD a celebration, not only of the past, but of a living tradition of song that is still vibrant.

Sheila Douglas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 39 of The Living Tradition magazine.