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Christine PrimroseChristine Primrose
Album: Gràdh Is Gonadh – Guth Ag Aithris (Love And Loss – A Lone Voice)
Label: Temple
Tracks: 14

There will be no argument among cognoscenti that Christine is one of Scotland’s foremost Gaelic singers; her purity of tone and clarity of diction are legendary. The clue to the nature of this album lies in its translated title – never truer, it turns out, for this is a collection of songs of love and loss sung by a lone voice. Not exactly wall-to-wall laments, but more poetical meditations. But how beautifully they’re sung. I could truthfully say that even though I’m not a Gaelic speaker, Christine’s singing casts a unique spell that’s hard to resist. But even so, a whole hour of unrelieved unaccompanied song in Gaelic will undoubtedly be considered impenetrable, even beyond the pale, for a sizeable majority of listeners, many of whom would have no hesitation in proclaiming that each and every song sounds exactly the same. This is an acquired taste, then: a niche market, sure – but hey, what a wonderful niche.

Christine has been making recordings over 35 years now (her seminal debut album was 1982’s Àite Mo Ghaoil). This latest release comes full circle by dint of the particular inclusion of one of its three bonus tracks, Gad Ionndrain (Missing You), which was recorded exactly 30 years ago in 1987 and was previously released that year on Christine’s album ’S Tu Nam Chuimhne; the rationale for its reappearance here is that it is in effect a companion piece to Gràdh Maireannach (Everlasting Love), track 3 on the present album. These were the only two songs written by William Campbell, bard of the Isle Of Lewis, who requested that Christine set them to music; she used a traditional tune for the first, but – the ultimate accolade – composed her own melody for the second. (On this album it is prefaced by a source recording of Angus Peter Campbell’s recitation of a verse of the first song.)

The remaining pair of bonus tracks were recorded in 2010 as a result of Christine’s being voted Gaelic Singer Of The Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2009. Returning to the bulk of the disc, the main menu of eleven tracks, these will need no recommendation for lovers of Gaelic song and fans of Christine’s beautiful and fabulously controlled, strong yet vulnerable singing. However, it cannot escape even the aficionado that her delivery embodies central contradictions, in that the very consistency of beauty in her expression can give rise to a certain impression of (apparent) detachment, which is to some extent reinforced by the language barrier. It’s also an undeniable fact that the songs tend to be of a broadly identical character and tempo, which tends to reinforce both the textual and thematic unity of the songs and (one might say) also reflects the insularity of Gaelic song culture. Attractive though the lilt and tone is, it’s not easy listening, but it is enchanting and spellbinding. Six of the songs are prefaced by short spoken samples, further details of which can be found – along with full English translations of the songs themselves – on Christine’s website. But the copious booklet notes – which give detailed background information and synopses – provide a well-judged entry point for our understanding of these songs.

David Kidman