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NA SEUDAN R - Seunta

NA SEUDAN R - Seunta
Mallemok MALLEMOK01CD

Na Seudan Ùr started performing together just over four years ago, in the spring of 2010, since when they’ve received numerous awards at both local and national level as well as receiving much acclaim for their appearance at Celtic Connections’ Danny Kyle stage. The band name translates as The New Jewels, and is clearly meant to reflect the delicate and precious talents, and artistic value, of this young (14-to-18-year-old) all-female quintet, whose members hail from Tarbert by Loch Fyne on the fringe of the Highlands. All five of the girls are intensely accomplished both as musicians and singers, although it’s Emma MacFarlane who’s the nominated lead vocalist on this CD.

The group sound is distinctive, with the boldly harmonised (2, 3 and 4 part harmony) vocal work supported by a stylish and relaxed instrumental backdrop that majors on unusual (for folk) colours – flute and violin supply the melody lines, with piano, accordion, cello, double bass and marimba filling in the support and the restrained percussion element principally provided by cajon. This approach is best demonstrated by the desolate lament Am Buachaille Bàn and the plaintive love song An Eala Bhàn (The White Swan), while the hushed, atmospheric performance of the heart-rending ’lle Dhuinn ’s Toigh Leam Thu gets very close to an ideal treatment and is a highlight of the disc. The disc also contains four Burns numbers, which vary in impact despite considerable imagination often being deployed in the settings – The Slave’s Lament trades its melody off against a brooding African-style marimba riff, and the lilt of Ca’ The Yowes gives rise to an attractive little jig through Rattlin’ Roaring Willie, although Ye Banks And Braes’ leisurely pace may be judged a touch deliberate and the initial charm of My Heart’s In The Highlands soon wears thin due to its airy, rather pretty aura. As does the breezy but dispensable Mairi’s Wedding. On the other hand, the two sets of lively puirt a beul that bookend the disc have an irresistible drive and momentum and are characterised by some slightly unconventional use of syncopation.

Na Seudan Ùr certainly give us a unique musical experience, a fusion that explores the interaction between classical and jazz inspired sensibilities, gestures and moods within the sphere of folk tradition and folk harmony; the downside may be that a slightly staged feeling, one of conscious arrangement, tends to dominate, and this aspect may get in the way of listener satisfaction on occasion, notwithstanding the well-drilled precision of every contribution and the concentrated vitality of the playing and singing. In addition, there’s a lot going on with the interaction of parts and the admittedly tricky internal balance is not always ideally achieved by the engineering; the soundscape can at times feel cluttered. Of course, this is early days for the outfit however, and this assured debut CD is still a very impressive achievement in anyone’s book.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.