Uam (From Me)
Artist: Julie Fowlis
Label: Shoeshine Records
Time: 13 tracks / 50 mins
Fowlis’s third album sees
her sticking to her proven mix of largely Scottish songs, all sung in Gaelic,
supported by a fine, discreet band and with some collaborations.
The first four tracks showcase
the range of what she offers. “M’fhearann saidhbhir” sees Fowlis launching
the set with a song that has a strong dance rhythm even before the instruments
kick in. When they do, the track builds and builds, starting with just
bodhrán and bouzouki, then with fiddle, flute and whistle on top.
This dance tune (part traditional, part new) could really rock if played
on electric instruments, but works pretty well as it is. For me, these
beautifully-played instrumental tunes are what set the disc apart. There
is no hurry to return to Fowlis’s singing – but then she plays whistle
anyway, so is hardly being kept in the wings.
The ballad “Bothan Alrigh
am Brâigh Raithneach” shows how well she handles slower songs and
(maybe here I am being influenced by the excellent version on YouTube)
takes the hearer back to winter nights in the Hebrides, where a room full
of musicians would bring out the old songs that would get handed down from
generation to generation. This is the spirit of the whole disc, with Uam
meaning ‘From Me.’ As Fowlis writes in the 32-page booklet, “The ideas
of passing a song, a tune or a story from one person to another is a common
one throughout Gaelic Scotland, and I often feel being given a song is
like being given a gift; one you can use and enjoy yourself, but one which
ultimately must be passed on to someone else. The song is always more important
than the singer and must be passed on to survive.”
“Wind and Rain” is the famous
traditional track that Martin Simpson recorded last year, but here the
song is sung in Gaelic by Fowlis with Eddi Reader duetting in the only
English on the whole album. The pairing of their voices works brilliantly,
as does alternating the languages. Sharon Shannon plays button box. Elsewhere,
Fowlis duets with Mary Smith, Allan MacDonald and her sister Michelle.
“Thig am Bàta” represents
the material that is likely to split the vote. Purely vocals and bodhrán,
the song has a refrain that comes after just about every line. While the
booklet tells us that this is a tragic song, the repetition is too much,
and – as with two other tracks – while the peculiarly Gaelic angular rhythms
are valuable in their preservation of a cultural style, they can irritate
when there is such little variation in the song.
This band is superb, comfortable
in support of the songs and with no intention of hogging the limelight.
Her husband Éamon Doorley’s bouzouki is particularly enjoyable,
but the blend of all the timbres makes it a real ensemble work.
Fowlis’s singing is a treat.
Her expression on the Breton song “Rugadh mi ‘n teis Meadhan na Mara” takes
up the plaintive fiddle tone and makes a simple song of identity sound
like a heart-rending tragedy.
This is probably Fowlis’s
most comfortable album and the material could take on a new life live,
but it is strongly redolent of songs played traditionally in crofts and
makes enjoyable listening at home.