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Amy Macdonald Amy Macdonald
Album: Under Stars
Label: Mercury
Tracks: 11
Website: http://www.amymacdonald.co.uk

It's almost six years since Macdonald released her third album, Life In A Beautiful Light, following its predecessors into the Top 4. Understandably, anticipation for his long in coming follow-up has been high, especially among her Scottish fans. All the more so since no reviews appeared prior to its release. When that happens in the movie world, it's usually a sign that the distributor knows they have a stinker in their hands and wants to avoid bad press until after it's in the cinemas. That's far from the case here.

Admittedly, it doesn't stray from a provenly successful formula, thumping drums, big guitars and Macdonald's soaring, warbling contralto belting out songs of a Celtic folk rock persuasion built around massive hooks, choruses and melodies, but why fix what's not broken.

The driving 'Dream On' launches the assault on an unambiguously upbeat note with her declaration that "I'm on top of the world and I'm on the right track, I'm on top of the world and I won't look back", swiftly followed by the crunchier marching beat of the title track extending the message about finding your feet, spreading your wings, daring to dream and other such inspirational be who you are clichés. It's hard not to get caught up in the swell and find yourself singing along to the chorus from the get go.

'Automatic' has a friskier rhythm and remains on message about taking chances, foot to the floor, as she declares she's "ready to go, this feeling won't stop", a brief shift in tempo followed by a big guitar solo. After all this, it's time for a slight breather, 'Down By The Water', a lazier lope that gives way to a handclap and stomp gospelish repeated chorus finale. Then it's briefly back to pumping vocal iron for 'Leap of Faith' before 'Never Too Late', the album's only real bona fide ballad, taking the pace right down for a piano and strings accompanied song about taking the future in hand and writing on a blank page rather than "sitting around waiting for the world to change." You'll have realised by now, this is an album about positivity, even if the urgently strummed, breathlessly sung 'The Rise & Fall' does acknowledge that "everything must come to an end", that "good guys always finish last, power corrupts and good turns bad", but only to underline that you shouldn't hold on to the past and they we all have to work together.

Even being knocked back and failing are seen as positives, in as much as they fuel the determination to get back up. 'Feed My Fire' is, initially at least, a slower acoustic strum about searching for the answers and putting the pieces back together that again brings on the handclaps, leading on to the punchy, been there got the scars survivor's anthem 'The Contender' ("I gave it all because I had to try") and, taking things down, the slowly building, orchestral swell of 'Prepare To Fall', which would seen to be about facing life aware that sometimes it will kick your legs away.

Of course, you have to rise again, hence the album ends with another gradual builder, From The Ashes, with its defiant assertion reminding that, while you may end up back where you started, "It's okay to start again cause change is gonna come. Nothing ever stays the same, it's not like we're still young. Let's blow it up and burn it down so we can stand alone. Fear of change, no fear of the unknown", love feeding the fire and rising the repeated stadium swaying outro mantra of "the sky above, the earth below, fire within me, let it glow."

It's not exactly philosophically profound, nor does it mark any landmarks in the progress of musical form, but it does exactly what you want Amy Macdonald to do and no one does that better than her.

There's also a deluxe edition that features acoustic versions of seven of the tracks along with a slow and spare acoustic cover of Springsteen's 'I'm On Fire'. Indeed she is.

Mike Davies