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Adoon Winding Nith
White Fall Records WFRCD003

In my time, I have met three or four Burns enthusiasts whose knowledge of the great man and his work, put mine to shame.   But that said, I have always loved and admired The Heaven Sent Ploughman.   And that, it seems to me, ought to be enough.

And I have a hunch that Emily and Jamie are aiming this CD at fans just like me.   Not at anoraks who can tell you what the Great Man had for breakfast on the day he married Jean Armour (impressive though such knowledge is)!  Now, that said, let me add that this is not the first album of Burns songs I have reviewed.   Not by a long chalk.  And so forgive me, if I repeat myself a little.

It strikes me that as Burns is a universal writer (remember he is still the most popular British poet in Russia!), Emily and Jamie will be aiming this CD at far beyond the Caledonian diaspora.   Ideally, aiming at someone like me: a person who is far from being an authority on Burns, but yet someone who has more than once done the Burns trail, and visited all the houses and places related to him from Kirkudbright right up to Aberdeen (via Ayrshire and Dumfries), and someone who - whilst needing the glossary (which happily the CD liner notes provide) – already had a smattering of the Scots vernacular, that Burns used to such delicious effect.

Before I talk about the album, a word or two on “the Burns effect”, as it manifests itself with Scottish folk singers.  Of course it is a “given” that they start with a genuine love of their country’s national poet.   But, once these performers become successful and (maybe) have a few CDs under their belt, it strikes me that there is almost a sense of duty that they feel to make a Burns CD.   And there is a long list of them, e.g. (in no particular order), Jean Redpath, Jim Malcolm, Eddi Reader, Rod Paterson, Ed Miller, Andy M Stewart, Pur, Dougie MacLean, etc … not to mention the 80 or so singers and instrumentalists who contributed to that monumental release of a 12 CD set by Linn records in 2003: The Complete Songs of Robert Burns.  

So we need to stop for a moment here, and take stock of the situation.  Are people recording a Burns album as almost a Rite of Passage?   Or to show their love and respect?  (Or a mixture of the two reasons?)  I doubt if they are doing it for commercial gain: the sheer glut of more mainstream Burns albums out there – from the late great Kenneth McKellar onwards – suggests the subject area has been so well-mined, that only a markedly fresh interpretation can have any chance at attracting the general Burns aficionado.

And so we cut to the chase.   Have Emily and Jamie come up with something that has set me to looking at some aspects of the Great Man in a new light?  The short answer is no.  But then they would doubtless say that this was not their intention.  Rather, they wanted to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth with an album of his lesser-known songs.  And perform them sincerely and effectively.  And in that, they have unquestionably succeeded.  Though that said, the “lesser-known” bit went out the window somewhat, when such favourites as The Plooman, Silver Tassie, (and I guess the now obligatory) A Man’s A Man For A’ That, inevitably made their appearances.

And such is Emily’s fame these days  - “Scots Singer of the Year” etc. – that she and Jamie’s performances in public of the “rarer” songs like the title song, have began to make even this, that much better-known.      Adoon Winding Nith is here the opening track, and it sets out their stall: they deliver it – and the subsequent 10 tracks – with both brio, and a sense of the lyric reigning supreme.  At no time does multi-instrumentalist Jamie try to impose himself over the vocals, but instead always plays an admirably supportive role.

Emily’s voice is of course the real deal.  In some ways it is a throwback to a whole different time: she sounds like she could have been there with Rabbie living on Ellisland Farm.    She certainly transported me there from the get-go: that opening track – my favourite, by the way - immediately made me recall the day I myself walked the banks of the Nith at Ellisland.  And that is the sign of a good song.  And a good album.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.