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Reviews

Lauren MacColl Lauren MacColl
Album: The Seer
Label: Feis Rois
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.laurenmaccoll.co.uk

Lauren, a young fiddler originally from the Black Isle, won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award back in 2004, then over the following five years made two impressive albums (When Leaves Fall and Strewn With Ribbons) leading her own band. The success of these launched her on a career path that has seen her performing in a duo with flautist Calum Stewart as well as with the groups Salt House and Rant and as a member of the Rachel Newton Band. Not to mention being in demand as a session player. Somehow she also finds time to tutor (not just Highland fiddle playing but also music theory and ensemble work) for Fèis Rois, the voluntary organisation based in the Highlands at which she herself learnt her own fiddle craft from a very early age.

Things have indeed come full circle for Lauren, for The Seer is a suite of music specially written by Lauren to a commission by Fèis Rois to celebrate the organisation’s own 30th anniversary; it was first performed at Celtic Connections in 2017, and this studio recording has indeed followed swiftly. The suite’s inspiration is the life and works of the famous supernaturally-gifted 17th century Highland prophet the Brahan Seer, and portrays these aspects through music and song that both tells the stories of selected prophecies and explores the lives of characters involved in, or influential to, his own life. Assisting Lauren in her endeavours we find a dream-team of supporting players comprising Megan Henderson (fiddle, piano, vocals), Rachel Newton (vocals, clarsach, viola), Mairearad Green (accordion, border pipes), Anna Massie (guitar, mandolin) and James Mackintosh (percussion).

As befits the subject, Lauren’s music spans a wide expressive canvas, from lively foot-tapping tunes to impressionistic melodies, from the dark opening strathspey Coinneach Odhar to a rumbustious “two-sighted” tune medley (Lady Isabella) and an achingly lovely slow air (A Mermaid At Fearn) that recalls a particularly powerful prophecy. Loch Ussie is a deliriously syncopated slip-jig of a bagpipe tune evoking the place where the Seer’s adderstone was slung into the grass, while The Fairburn Calf is a gently lilting meditation on a miraculous birth in the uppermost chamber of Fairburn Tower. And Sheep Will Eat Men/Brahan is a sprightly, if cryptic pipe-led set, whereas Tomnahurich depicts a fairy hill on which is located a cemetery. Drumossie, inspired by a prediction made on the site of Culloden, has the feel of a pibroch. The suite contains two vocal items: the first, Tàladh Choinnich Odhar, is a lullaby sung by the Seer’s mother, warning of a difficult life ahead for her son (Lauren was assisted in its composition by Rachel Walker). And the fluttering jig-like incantation An Unkindness Of Ravens (hauntingly sung by Rachel) depicts the latter part of the Seer’s life and how he met his end.

David Kidman