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HERITAGE "Tell Tae Me" COMD 2051

It's often the kiss of doom if I like an album straight away. Immediate infatuation leads to repetitive playing to the exclusion of all other things, then a stage is reached where I regard the "hooks" that initially arrested my attention as being on the unsubtle side and begin to recoil from the obviousness of it all. The zenith is reached when the album in consigned to the top of an unreachable shelf (or given to the raffle Hell of any unsuspecting folk club). Much the opposite is happening with this Heritages C.D. At first listen I thought it merely unobjectionable though surprisingly lacking "oomph" from a group of seven musicians (with the occasional addition of an eighth in the form of melodeon player Dominique Lalaurie).

Now at fourth listen, however, I find I've radically revised this opinion, and regard the album much more as an unpretentious piece of work, showing commendable restraint where a bombastic assault would've sufficed to get by on for a band with less sense of perspective. Examples of the band's style is to be found in the familiar hornpipe "The Acrobat", which is taken perkily starting off with the less familiar combination of mandolin and Jews harp giving that could've been just another competent version a marked freshness, whilst the equally popular Scottish marches "The Duke of Fife's Welcome to Deeside"/"Campbell's Farewell to Redcastle" whilst played cleanly, owe their ear catching quality to the band's unusual instrumentation which includes bombarde, musette, and autoharp alongside the more usually encountered guitar, fiddle etc.

The ratio of instrumental to vocal tracks is ten to three and both have strengths. The unusual instrumentation without gimmickry imparts a newness to otherwise familiar tunes, whilst there are some outstanding new (at least to me) items here. Worthy of special mention are hauntingly sad American waltz tunes "April Waltz"/"Ookpik Waltz" and the closing "Calabrian Pastorale" which shows that the band have an empathy with music from other cultures and can do the business with a real feel for material beyond their homeland. Where homeland and other land really come together, however, is on one of the song tracks, the title track "Tell Tae Me". Learned from Dominique Lalaurie, this song came from Occitania an area of Southern France where the Occitanian language was once spoken, all but died out and is beginning only now to receive a renewed interest. "Show Me Our Country On A Map" the boy in the song asks his grandfather, to be told that it's no longer there and he must look within himself if he wished to find it.

Jack Beck's vocal eschews literal translation and goes for the essence of the song instead. Though no doubt comparisons are invidious etc. etc. they're a useful yardstick for a reviewer to use to convey something of the qualities of a singer's voice that readers may not have heard. I'll chance my arm here then, and say that Beck's voice throughout the album took me back to the distinctive style of the Ian Campbell of many years ago. The song never becomes subservient to vocal pyrotechnics, the phrasing is Campbell-like and the directness of the style puts the message up front, which is vital in a song like this. In no sense are the band derivative, however, and it was this subtle originality that first threw me. The overall impact is that of a work which constantly yields up new things the more it is listened to. Well worth the dosh whether buying it for yourself of for a Christmas gift for someone who thinks Scottish bands start and end with Runrig. A wee gem.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 3 of The Living Tradition magazine.