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Folk Roundabout
Published Date: 2012
By Dave Kidman

Where Ravens Reel
Geordie McIntyre & Alison McMorland

Rowan Records, ROWR01CD

In my opinion this is one of the finest discs to be released by any folk artist over the past couple of years and any review needs to do it at least some measure of justice in conveying at least a measure of its stature.

In common with previous releases by this long-standing singing partnership, this CD, in spite of its wholly authorative air, makes no grand pretensions; yet it is handsomely packaged and annotated, while its contents are impeccably chosen, sensibly contrasted and sequenced, matchlessly well sung and cleanly recorded. And the performances themselves, by these acknowledged supreme tradition-bearers in perfect concord evidently derive as much pleasure and satisfaction from the singing as they give to the listener (and, rightly, demand an equivalent level of commitment).

But this is no ordinary disc of traditional song either; for although 10 of the 14 tracks actually employ a tune of traditional origin, the words to no fewer than five of these were penned by Geordie himself; one (Love Song) by Hamish Henderson and another (Gloomy Winter's Noo Awa) by Robert Tannahill. Geordie's songs are nothing if not masterly, and range emotionally from the striking opener From Gulabeinn (its composition triggered by the scattering of Hamish Henderson's ashes in a "natural tomb" at the mountain's summit) and the Lights of Home, the moving story of POW Andy Coogan (evocatively accompanied by Alison's banjo), to Tam Chambers, a canny wee celebration of Glasgow "character" Big Tam. Additionally, three of the discs remaining items sports tunes by Geordie. First there is the magnificent title song, which, though inspired by a dream, reflects on a mystical experience on the Argyll peak of Stob Gobhar, with an eerily throbbing guitar figure that seems to evoke the swirling mist of the mountain top environs. Then there's Winter in Glencoe which sets words by the late poet, song collector and activist Helen Fullarton, and The Tryst (words by Perthshire poet William Soutar). The final item, a satisfyingly credible version of Thomas Rymer (Child 37), finds Alison providing her entirely idiomatic tune for this time - honoured ballad. And talking of such "muckle sangs", Alison's solo unaccompanied performances of The Cruel Grave (Child 248) and the intriguing Burns and Highland Mary are chillingly paced and especially tellingly rendered, while Geordie's version of the classic Clydes Water stands comparison with the finest available.

Although the the majority of the disc's tracks focus on Alison or Geordie themselves, Alison's daughter Kirsty Potts sings in glorious harmony with Alison on two (Factory Girl and Mary Slessor), and Jo Miller brings her fiddle along to augment From Gulabeinn. I really wouldn't want to be without this CD, for it contains an abundance of singing of true distinction that in every way entirely matches the couples integrity.

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