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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.
 
Derek Walker

 
 
 
 
 

 
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