Rura stake their claim in the premier league, firing on all cylinders from the front.
Release date: 17th March 2023
Format: CD / digital
At last, this formidable band has released the cracker that all knew they had in them. Whaaat? Surely they have issued a shelf full of crackers, and, yes, that is undoubtedly true. But this is the one to shake off any uncertainty as to whether they are a fully instrumental unit or not, nailing finally any concerns they are merely in waiting for another vocalist of the calibre of Adam Holmes, to fill any Adam Holmes-shaped gap in their line-up. Yes, this is their second fully instrumental album, give or take some found speech in 2018’s In Praise Of Home, but, with the Live In The Fruitmarket set and the Our Voices Echo EP, one might wonder if they still yearn for vocal contribution. They. Do. Not. Need. It. There, I’ve said it, however good, and they are very good, each of those recordings are.
Steven Blake, highland pipes and keyboards, Jack Smedley, fiddle, David Foley, flute and bodhrán, and token Englishman, Adam Brown, on all and any guitars, are a talented foursome, of that there is no doubt. I have seen just the four of them blow a storm with their earlier material, at Cambridge, pre-Covid, and just know this a mighty step forward, onward and upward. The arrangements, whilst clearly “of the tradition”, transcend such a restrictive view, and the almost new age accoutrements they bring to this set are, hyperbole alert, simply wonderful.
Journey’s Home starts with some tapping piano, ahead of Brown’s warm guitar filtering in, with flute following and joining, a plaintive air made all the more striking by that keyboard constancy. As the fiddle blends in, it becomes anthemic, as befits a tune chosen to be part of Edinburgh’s 2012 Hogmanay celebrations. That vibrant start is maintained by the title track, picked guitar and bass textures introducing a fiddle and flute sense of foreboding, the textures here gloriously weaved in together, a tapestry overseen by Euan Burton, returning on production duties, fast chasing the tail of Andrea Gobbi as the go-to producer for Scottish neo-trad. The fiddle ups the pace as the tune morphs into McClures Reel, a progression that begs, and gets, Foley’s bodhrán, the pipes slotting alongside the fiddle. Getting more complex, the instruments dance around each other to the end, bodhrán still thumping as the intial theme returns. Think Of Today is an attractively wispy fiddle tune that floats like smoke, a guitar picking away underneath. As a steady percussive footstep enters, it entrances, before, at midway, a breeze blows the tune apart, bass notes building, the melody reprised in ensemble mode. Great stuff, signing off with just the acoustic guitar.
Flute takes the centre ground for The Soft Mist Over All, an apt title, the atmosphere instilled by the four musicians very much of a forest at dusk. Or is it dawn? Building gradually, I’ll plump for the former, the light awakening the scene. A slow electronic chug emerges to add ballast towards the conclusion, pipes, flute and fiddle in unison, steering the melody home. Then, as if to say be off with your mists and forests, The Grove kicks off in an almost gypsy jazz syncopation, fingerpicked guitar and flashing fiddle. In two parts, and dedicated to, first, a pub, and, then, El Capitan, that mighty Yosemite rockface. Smedley bows ever faster, the echo effects in the backing adding to the dizziness, with then the solid rhythm of bodhrán a base for Blake’s pipes to join with Smedley. The acoustic bass is a joy on this one, probably Brown, possibly Burton, who is credited with additional bass, but one wonders as to the wisdom of following a drink with a climb. But we’ve all been there.
Rise restores some gravity, some stately keyboards beckoning in a further pairing of tunes. At this point it is worth noting how all four players are responsible for all the music here, the lion’s share of the writing from Smedley, with Foley not far behind, but all getting a shout at some place or other. Rise, as befitting its origin, commemorating the return to normal service, after the enforced lay-off of covid 19, starts slowly and majestically, until the percussion jumps in, allowing fiddle and guitar to joust, pipes easing also their way in. The second part of this track, Storm Island, is unashamed bagpipe heaven, Blake grabbing all the pathos inherent in his ghostly air, until his compadres again up the ante, goading him on and into a more resounding finale. Flute and pipes really are a good combination, especially in these players’ hands. Some sparse solo piano opens Hollow Ground, sad sounding fiddle and flute wafting overhead, The piano remains the main focus, give or take bodhrán, for a brief turn, the main theme then restored by all.
The Crossing again upsets the peaceful equilibrium, a helter skelter pandemonium of strummed guitar to start. Over this backdrop Smedley first takes his fiddle on a riotous jaunt, followed by Blake’s pipes. At the 2/3 mark, the fiddle goes way off piste, screeching atonally, well without any traditional expectation. A short interjection, but possibly, if bizarrely, it is my favourite moment on this record. The Crossing in question is that to Colonsay, undertaken ina force eight gale, with only a bottle of malt to settle stomachs. Which explains that fiddle break. Three tunes together make for the closer, A Minor Emergency, and make for the most orthodox part of this exhilarating record, and offers a fine showcase for the many and varied talents of this fine quartet. The ensemble play is intricate and beguiling, it sometimes hard, throughout, to discern who is playing what and when. Which may explain any howlers in my decipherment. No harm done, if so, it all being such a pleasurable ride. More like this, please!
Rura are on tour to promote this release. Catch them if you can, details on their website, below.:
MAR 9, 2023 : Edinburgh
MAR 10, 2023 : Strontian
MAR 11, 2023 : Aberdeen
MAR 16, 2023 : Arisaig
MAR 17, 2023 : Sleat
MAR 18, 2023 : Stirling
MAR 24, 2023 : London
MAR 25, 2023 : Chidham
MAR 26, 2023 : Settle
MAR 27, 2023 : Cambridge
MAR 28, 2023 : Liverpool
MAR 29, 2023 : Sheffield
MAR 30, 2023 : Kendal
MAR 31, 2023 : Braemar
APR 8, 2023 : Glasgow
Get in the mood with The Soft Mist All Over: