A retro folk bomb of some delight, consistently sublime vocals with sterling backing from an A team of Scots trad specialists.
Release date: 16th September 2022.
Label: Songprint Recordings (through Proper).
Format: CD / digital
Say what you like, but to win the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Award’s Singer of the Year four times suggests a voice somewhat special. Especially when your solo career is barely seven years old. With this, her fifth release, Miller gives a masterclass in quite why, with a voice that effortlessly coats all the notes in a gossamer sheen, seemingly incapable of strain and needing no truck with studio trickery. Which sort of sums up this record, the calibre of musicianship content to merely do what they do, simply and succinctly, unboxing and playing. Of course, the result is anything other than simple, also requiring some skills in the production department to hold the balancing act together. (Did I say her husband was Euan Burton, the guitarist and no mean studio helmsman, much in demand for his skills in that department?)
Like most musicians, covid near decimated her output for two long hard years, so, when the time came, bit duly champed, she set out to come out the hiatus with all barrels blazing. With 2017’s Strata having a peculiarly crack team of participants, what that she were able to duplicate that team? Kris Drever? Eddi Reader? Ian Carr? Yup, all were up for it, along with Louis Abbot, ace percussionist of Glasgow indie-folk band, Admiral Fallow. A plethora of other worthy names contribute on a track-by-track basis, most of the songs chosen from the repertoire of any half decent (Scottish) folk club. I have to say that the idea of these well-known songs, played straight and true, stands out from so much coming this way these days, with nary even a hint of effects or electronica. It doesn’t even have that much need for the electric at all. Which is why, dare I say, it has a slightly old fashioned feel, a tang of early Capercaillie, especially in the drums. But, once you rid your mind of that thought, like that’s a bad thing, remembering classic is the description you meant and had mislaid, it rollicks along joyfully.
Queen Of Argyle, the Silly Wizard song, opens the show, and sets out much of what is here on offer. A more overtly rhythmic take than that band, Abbott’s drums drive the song with brushes, Tom Gibbs’ piano and the acoustic guitars of Drever and Carr adding to the propulsion. Miller’s vocal glides through the melody, with some glorious fiddle, from Rura’s Jack Smedley, vying for attention. Cold Blows The Rainy Night is then also given a livelier feel than this song is sometimes gifted, with some clattering percussion and bouncy accordion, courtesy Andrew Waite of Dallahan and Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band. The cittern of Aaron Jones is now joining the mix, and you can certainly catch a hint of Ms Reader in the backing. A slower song, Star O’ The Bar, keeps firmly to the established plot line, Gibbs‘ piano leading the way, Charlie Stewart now on the fiddle fatigue. Miller sings this staple splendidly, in her own unadulterated accent, the sentiment fully reeking of central belt pub sessions. Possibly down to the sticky carpet.
Ewan MacColl’s Go, Move, Shift is another to get a more rhythmic application than many others have dealt this song, with Abbott giving the drums a good deal more welly than he is allowed elsewhere. If I had initially frowned at its inclusion, the listening got well rid of such negativity, and it is a pleasing romp, mindful of Christy Moore’s version. With drums and with Drever adding his light vocal touch to hers. But, annoyingly and possibly the fault of personal prejudice, I couldn’t take to what publicity calls the album highlight. I’m A Rover has been destroyed for me, by cloying tweeness over too many a year, and this version is insufficient to lose that reputation, with Miller sounding anything than the seldom sober reiver claimed. Sorry, my bad, but this song so needs a revision in the fashion of Lankum’s The Wild Rover for it to ever please my palate. Thankfully, The Swan Sings is sombre enough to take away the taste, moving almost into Tabor territory, again down to the inventive piano of Gibbs. As Burton, on double bass, as he is, largely, throughout, and Abbot kick in, it becomes one of the standout moments, as are the Miller/Reader choruses, with Waite weaving his accordion about them all.
Talking of standouts, next up, The Battle Of Waterloo, seizes, and some, that pole position. By Jim Malcolm, rather than trad arr, it is nonetheless a close cousin. Abbott channels the full Mattacks here, pounding about the kit with a tight abandon that had me grinning from the start, gloomy piano adding to the inescapable atmosphere of Sandy Denny. Which Miller shows she is more than capable of her standing comparison with. A wonderful, wonderful track, alone worth the price of admission.
A Rab Noakes song is always a good idea, and Open All Night isn’t a bad one, even if the contrast with the last track could not be more acute, being the closest song here to rock and roll. Sounding here like a hoarser Gerry Rafferty, that, too, isn’t a bad thing, but I’d have placed the song elsewhere in the running order. Still, what do I know, as Saturday Night, which follows, is very much in the same end of the evening vibe. It helps to think these two as the encores after a well-received set, letting her hair down after the more serious fare ahead of them. And which idea is added too by the closer, a second call back by the audience, if you will, for a no holds barred swayathon through Wild Mountain Thyme. Featuring Drever on guitar and additional vocals, as well as Adele’s own Senab Adekunle, this somehow bypasses my kitschometer by being just so charming, however sentimental it assuredly is.
Miller says her aim in this project was to recreate the ambience of a session of live music. Do you know, I think she may well have just achieved it!
I’m sure her team would wish for I’m A Rover, the single, but, sorry again, I’m going for The Battle Of Waterloo
Siobhan Miller online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube / Soundcloud
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