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Roses and Tears
Label: Vertical Records
Length: 12 tracks / 57 mins
It has been six years since Capercaillie’s last release and this one has been well-researched. Many of the pieces are drawn from the Gaelic song archive at the School of Scottish Studies, although they have been given thoroughly contemporary treatments, as one would expect from Capercaillie’s typical approach.
Despite the band being an eight-piece, the tracks often sound funky-lite, with Donald Shaw’s jaunty keyboards firming the backbone, combining with the rhythm section to produce almost a Celtic hip-hop feel. There is no crowding of instruments and Ewan Vernal’s characteristically sparse bass has plenty of room to poke through.
While much of the disc is instrumental, and half the songs with words are in Gaelic, two of the songs in English are protest songs about war. Particularly powerful is the John Martyn piece, “Don’t You Go”. Mellow and haunting, it is paced slowly enough for Karen Matheson’s yearning vocals to take full effect. By contrast, soon after, on “Barra Clapping Song” she treats her voice like an instrument, almost jumping octaves in bursts and echoing the reel style of the fiddle and pipes.
The inner cover shows the band in rehearsal in a large tent, open at one side, late at night. It is easy to imagine the chilled atmosphere and for many listens it felt like there was a lack of urgency on some tracks, due to an over-casual approach to the disc.
But now the disc has the air of a two-story building. The ground floor is the keyboard part, always content to fill in with chords that sit in the usual Celtic place behind the lead instruments, together with the rhythm section (the percussion adds much to “Don’t You Go”) and an accordion that underlines the fiddle and pipe leads well in the reels. The top floor is what stands out from distance: the lead instruments and voice, and these have plenty of energy. While all players have their moment, for me Michael McGoldrick’s Uillean pipes are often the star, involved at nearly every point that the music turns the ear.
Rumours mutter that this will be the band’s swansong. Capercaillie is like Iona – a Celtic collective, whose players spend most of their time in session work or on solo projects. We will hear plenty from them as individuals, but it would be a loss if they cannot come back – even if it takes another six years – and create something as good as this varied collection that keeps them at the forefront of revitalizing Celtic songs in their fresh, accessible style.