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JOY DUNLOP - Faileasan (Reflections)

JOY DUNLOP - Faileasan (Reflections)
Sradag Music SRM004

Joy is an accomplished young Gaelic singer (and step-dancer) from Argyll, currently based in Glasgow. Her life-long fascination with, and devotion to the promotion of, Scotland’s traditional music has led her to making her career in singing, showcasing Gaelic music and song in a contemporary way yet one that remains true to its roots. Her debut CD Dùsgadh (Awakening), released barely a couple of years ago, put Joy’s wonderfully pure-toned singing voice through its paces on a representative range of material – which, though sung entirely in the original Gaelic, presented no whiff of exclusivity or impenetrability but instead a thoroughly charming and accessible listening experience.

Entertainment that’s given the additional dimension of education, in the form of subliminal learning: a quality that’s enhanced even further on Joy’s follow up disc Faileasan. Joy’s intention here has been to present authentic source material from rural Argyll, the sheer richness of whose local Gaelic song tradition is often underestimated and even overlooked. Joy has also drawn on the local area’s expertise for every aspect of the record’s production, from the engagement of backing musicians to CD design and photography and use of the celebrated An Tobar recording studio, while ensuring the primary focus remains on the songs themselves. Many of these celebrate, or at very least give mention to, the beauties of the local landscape – for instance, Eilean Luinn (composed by a native of that very island just south of Oban) and the feisty waulking song ’S Fhad’ An Sealladh. Other musical genres explored on this disc include the lullaby (the beautiful Crònan Chàrsaig, written in 1958); the ironic, humorous courting song (Ma Phósas Mi Idir…); and the lament (the extraordinary Cumha Chailein Ghlinn Iubhair, composed by the bard Duncan Bàn MacIntyre after the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure, which is a real discovery and receives a breathtakingly poised a cappella account from Joy here).

Temporally speaking, the material tackled for this disc ranges from typically animated traditional puirt a beul (mouth music) to a very recent composition, Mary Ann Kennedy’s setting of Iain Crichton Smith’s words in praise of Taynuilt village (where the poet lived for many years before his death in 1998). With the possible exception of the latter sounding a wee touch too florid and over-ornamented, the musical arrangements Joy and her collaborators have provided for these songs are models of restraint and taste, with fleet-footed (not in the slightest bit heavy-handed) percussive backbeats from James MacIntosh where necessary. Variety of texture is provided by judicious alternation of guitar (Sorren Maclean) and piano (Andrew Dunlop) as the basic accompanying instrument, this then being further fleshed out by fiddle (Aidan O’Rourke, Rona Wilkie), accordion (Donald Shaw), or pipes (Lorne MacDougall) in various simple but effective combinations.

Standouts within this very persuasive set include the aforementioned lament, An Roghainn (Donald Shaw’s own setting of a Sorley MacLean poem), and the pleading love song Buain Na Raineich Taobh Loch Èite – but in truth each one of the eleven tracks possesses its own special character. And once again the language proves no barrier to our understanding, due to the excellent presentation of the disc – for full texts and translations are provided in the copious booklet. So this attractive release will I’m sure amply fulfil Joy’s stated aim in showcasing some of Argyll’s unjustly neglected musical heritage, hopefully also prompting a demand for a further selection of this material in due course.

David Kidman


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This album was reviewed in Issue 95 of The Living Tradition magazine.