Pendulum is the first solo album proper from the Isle of Arran-born fiddler and singer Gillian Frame, but one that has been the product of a fifteen year journey since she was awarded the inaugural Young Scottish Traditional Musician of the Year in 2001. That journey has seen Frame co-founding the much-missed trad band Back of the Moon, contributing as a session musician to over a dozen albums by acts such as Breabach, Treacherous Orchestra and Rachel Sermani, working as a peripatetic fiddle teacher in North Ayrshire, playing in the Fiona Hunter Band and The Bar Room Mountaineers (with singer-songwriter husband Findlay Napier) as well as with Hunter's Law, an occasional collaboration with Bella Hardy and Siobhan Miller. Frame has also worked for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Celtic Connections, Fèis Rois, Aberdeen International Youth Festival and many other traditional music organisations in Scotland and taught or performed at numerous music camps and festivals throughout North America and Europe.
It's an eclectic and impressive CV, and one which more than adequately qualifies Frame to produce this delightful and important contribution to the Scottish traditional oeuvre.
I describe Pendulum as her first solo album "proper", since the first Back of the Moon album, 2001's Gillian Frame and Back of the Moon, had originally been intended to be a solo album until the band project took over. One tune, 'Jubilee Jig' is poignantly common to both albums; it was originally written by Frame for the 50th birthday of her father, whose passing sadly delayed Pendulum's originally scheduled launch in January of this year.
Frame describes the collection of songs and tunes on the album as ones which "..have cemented themselves into my repertoire over the last fifteen or so years. Favourites from both performing and teaching. " Accompanying Frame on the recording and the arrangements are the stellar combo of producer Mike Vass (Malinky) on tenor guitar, mandolin, viola and vocals, renowned multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie (Blazin' Fiddles, Mairearad Green and many more) on guitar, banjo, mandolin and vocals, acclaimed jazz bass player Euan Burton on double bass and vocals, and special guests Adam Holmes (John McCusker Band, Adam Holmes and the Embers) on vocals and Phil Hague (Admiral Fallow) on percussion.
The album opens with a Findlay Napier composition, 'Rothes Colliery', a lament for "the dark old promise of what could have been" of the first Scottish 'super-pit' which opened in Fife in 1957 and was the reason for the building of the new town of Glenrothes. The pit was projected to be capable of producing coal for 100 years, but it lasted barely four years and produced negligible amounts of coal after water continually seeped in to the pit via the surrounding porous sandstone. Anyone familiar with Napier's writing (for example through his excellent 2015 album Very Interesting Persons) will appreciate his skill in reflecting real life experiences and stories in song, and 'Rothes Colliery', originally written during 'The Real Bothy' touring songwriting project, is a fine example of that craft, respectfully performed here.
'Lovely Molly' is next, a traditional Scottish ballad from the Greig Duncan Folk Collection (not to be confused with the old Norfolk song of the same name for which Sam Lee won a 2016 BBC Folk Award). It's the everyday story of a young man who tricks an old shepherd into parting with his daughter instead of a lamb - delightfully relayed here through Frame's angelic vocal, Massie's sublime harmony vocal and interesting jig-rhythm guitar backing.
Next up is a set of three tunes, 'The Grinder' and 'The Red Crow' both written by Altan fiddler Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, and the traditional tune 'The Sisters'. Frame's fiddle is always mellow and never grating, with Burton's warm double bass underpinning the set.
'The Echo Mocks the Corncrake' is next, the traditional Ayrshire song performed by many down the years including Archie Fisher and most recently and agreeably by Karine Polwart on the excellent Songs of Separation album. It is easy to see why the song has retained its popularity over time, lending itself, as here, to sweet harmonies and interesting instrumental refrains.
Another set of tunes follow which showcase Frame's effortless fiddling, including one of her own composition, 'Spider's Legs', on which guitar follows fiddle note for note to superb effect.
No such collection as this would be complete without a Robert Burns song, and 'Silver Tassie' is Frame's choice, a family favourite sung here in duet with the acclaimed young singer Adam Holmes. The two voices work beautifully together on a lovely restrained version of the song.
This is followed in stark contrast by 'Fine Flooers In The Valley', a version of the classic child murder ballad 'The Cruel Mother', its gruesome lyrical content belied here by the charming vocal and almost upbeat arrangement.
Two puirt à beul come next, 'Hug Air A Bhonaid Mhoir' and 'Cha Tig An Latha' cheerful traditional Scottish Gaelic tunes favoured by Frame in her teaching, followed by 'Lass of Glenshee', another traditional song learned by Frame from Altan and evocatively performed here in a version constructed from a combination of archive recordings found by Frame on the excellent Tobar and Dualchais website of over 36,000 oral recordings made in Scotland and further afield.
Two more sets of jigs and tunes complete the collection, including the aforementioned 'Jubilee Jig', and two more recent Frame compositions: the album's title track and the moving 'Grace's' written for Frame's grandmother. All are enchantingly performed and vindicate the excellent choice of musicians brought together for this project who complement each other, and the material, perfectly.
Pendulum is a captivating collection of songs and tunes in the traditional Scottish style, expertly performed and inspiringly chosen. Easily one of my albums of the year so far.
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