Lush solo stirrings of a Gaelic diva to be?
Release date: 17th June 2022
Format: CD / Digital
It’s been a busy old year, and some, for Kim Carnie. And this is the 3rd time her name has featured here, in barely a little over a year. Last May saw the debut of Staran, a new Scottish jazz-trad band, reviewed here, she much at the same time becoming a member of Mànran, ready for their own October release, reviewed here. This is now her debut long player as a solo artist, and a mighty fine piece of work it is too. Not bad for a woman still in her twenties. Gaelic Singer of the Year in the Scottish trad awards for 2021, with a side career as a TV presenter, for BBC Alba, natch, she has had a rash of session appearances between now and the years since her first hearing, an EP of her own and traditional Gaelic song in 2017. Having caught her live, with Mànran twice, last year at Wickham Festival and this year at Skye Live, she has a potent and powerful voice, striking and pure, so this record has been awaited by me with some excitement. Share that with me.
Unsurprisingly, given her contacts, there are as strong a selection of Scotland’s finest to give a decent bed for her songs and voice. Produced by Capercaillie maestro, and the musical director of Celtic Connections, Donald Shaw, he also plays keyboards and accordion, whilst Innes White, mentioned recently as the producer for Hannah Rarity, provides guitar, current Shooglenifty drummer, James Mackintosh, provides drums, with James Lindsay, who else, has somehow found time between his day job with Breabach and, seemingly, playing on just about every Scottish trad inspired record made this year, plies the bass. So, a pretty damn fine band, with numerous other guests dipping in and out, on other instruments and vocally.
The album leads with She Moves Me, a song in English, to draw you in gently. This is an exquisite arrangement, John Lowrie, another alumnus from Hannah Rarity’s album, setting the scene with some beautiful piano. With the sympathetic double bass of Lindsay, as Carnie starts to sing, it becomes entrancing, shivers up and down the spine territory. Who wrote it? She did. With understated backing vocals from Karen Matheson and Julie Fowlis, neither stealing the limelight, it can’t get much better than this. The Gaelic is broken into for second song, but far from how you might expect, with a distinctly jazz-world tinge to Nighean Sin Thall. Breathy saxophone rasps, courtesy Scottish jazz wonder boy, Matt Carmichael, and with the bass all glorious bouncy resonance, it has a rhythm way more loping than the traditional “waulking song” it actually is, that revealed as the vocal melody kicks in. When you realise the guitar that bubbles throughout isn’t, being rather the kora of Kadialy Kouyate, it suddenly and strangely all clicks into perfect place. Matt Na Ceapaich is the third song, one of those wistful airs, over a swathe of synthesiser drones, piano and bass, Carnie’s voice carrying a deceptive heft, for all the softness therein. A guitar breaks the song into a further movement, the strings of the Scottish Session Orchestra then sweeping through, other voices joining, with Kathleen MacInnes now part of the throng.
After It All is another Carnie composition, a relatively simple near lullaby of a love song, the strings doing much of the heavy lifting. Given much of this material was written in lockdown, this has a distinct feel of that, looking forward to when it can be all over and the subject of the song can again be with her. Some subtle electronic jiggery pokery gives added lustre to the close of the song. Lulled by this, it is Carmichael’s sax that introduces Disathairne Ghabh Mi Mulad, guitar and tabla the other instrumentation, along with Carnie’s super-choir of Gaelic singers. The contrasting instrumentation adds, by subtraction, to the prevailing and contrasting mood. Undoubtedly in the Gaelic tradition, it offers sleight of ear to sound anything but. Carmichael’s playing is exemplary, at times echoing Van Morrison, in happier days, his Inarticulate Speech of the Heart 1980s. Laoidh Na’ H’Oidche features Fowlis as more than just in any back-up role, being a duet version that incorporates the words of a hymn, Night Hymn, by Sileas Na Ceapaich. The two voices take turns over sonorous echoed piano, coming together in ethereal harmony, the effect insisting total concentration. Astonishing, and worth the price of entry alone, a gentle pitter patter of electronica again emerging quietly at the end.
And So We Gather is another of Carnie’s by now idiosyncratic love songs, the style a familiar construct of mood and melody, encapsulated here in a cocoon of strings, her voice flying in and around their protective glaze. Perhaps a little more syrupy than her earlier selections here, that a point only drawn out by the comparisons. The strings here are maybe a little too much in your face, belying this Orchestra being predominantly a soundtrack vehicle. It is nonetheless a gorgeous tune and I can see it gracing a tragic romcom anytime soon. Back down to earth, then with Caiordhe Mhic Shiridh, where she softly intones over a long drawn out accordion drone, the backing vocals, MacInnes again and Calum McCrimmon (Breabach), especially moving; music to put your affairs in order to. This then leads into perhaps the jauntiest track here, Chan Eil A’Chuis A’Cordadh Rium, voice, guitar, piano and muted percussion. The Orchestra welly in, of course, but this is neatly offset by the fiddle of Charlie Stewart (Sketch). For the final track, Loving You, Carnie polishes off another masterful power ballad, but it is again a little too rich in the arrangement. Of her four English compositions here, this, of all of them, cries out for something more stark, solo piano perhaps, or maybe guitar. Again, it feels churlish to say so, given the tune a lighter waving banger and her voice a silken tornado. (I note, to my chagrin, it is the great Kate St. John who arranged the strings on the two tracks I find the greatest issue with, Donald Shaw offering the lighter touch elsewhere they appear.)
I think it clear Carnie aims high with this recording, designed to appeal across a wider board than her her band related work. Indeed, I can’t see her content to remain a mere band member for long, this seeming a bid for cross genre breakthrough. Her backing vocalists here are really going to have to watch out for her stealing their thunders. And, I suspect bigger than Arts Centres and Village Halls beckon.
Here’s my favourite track, Nighean Sin Thall, featuring Matt Carmichael and Kadialy Kouyate: