This might be considered an enigma of an album, in the same way as its inspiration undoubtedly was. That inspiration was the late Dundonian "bard of Lochee", Michael Marra, one of the most mercurial, "decidedly acquired-taste" (and thus also underrated) singer-songwriters of our age, who tragically died in 2012. Here, his daughter Alice (of Dundee indie-popsters The Hazey Janes) has recorded a solo record comprising both classics and rarities from her father's inimitable œuvre.
Here she manages to achieve a high degree of listener accessibility out of what has often been termed quite exclusive, sometimes thorny and occasionally mildly difficult material. With the help of a fresh incarnation of Michael's original Gaels Blue Orchestra (involving some of the original musicians), Alice brings her own pop and chanson sensibilities to bear on a well-considered selection of her father's songs that ranges from Taking The Next Train Home from his own debut solo LP (1980's The Midas Touch) through to the well-loved Frida Kahlo's Visit To The Taybridge Bar from Michael's acclaimed Postcard Sober collection (and most recently covered by Coope Boyes & Simpson on their own farewell CD Coda), via a gorgeously sensitive rendition of Mother Glasgow (possibly Michael's "greatest hit") and the cheekily satirical Mincing Wi' Chairlhi. And I suspect that a number of these songs won't even be known to, let alone familiar to, Marra devotees, for they include some unreleased or recently unearthed songs - for instance the disc's opener Soldier Boy, a rather intense lullaby with some rather strange chords that Alice discovered on an old cassette demo, New German Waltz from the unreleased second solo album, and Goodnight To Lovely You which was revived by Dougie Maclean at a tribute show after Michael's death.
Alice's performances of her father's songs are authentic and affectionate, and she has chosen carefully to best suit her own performance style. After all, all Michael ever wanted was to have other people recording his songs - as he himself so brilliantly put it: "I didn't want my name in lights, I wanted it in brackets". And that's how it will be with Chain Up The Swings, for sure. It's impeccably presented and packaged, and will do wonders for Michael Marra's reputation. Which, by the way, has recently been further enhanced by the first-time digital availability of Michael's entire back-catalogue including two previously unreleased albums.
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