Like a Scotch mist rolling off the sea, the melodic wail of the strings, Uillean pipes and the sounds of "Iomaraibh Eutrom" or "Row Lightly" slowly advances and envelopes the listener, getting more intense as it goes until... you are suddenly surrounded and in the midst of a thickening fog. For a moment your heart races until a little quicker than it enveloped you, the mist fades and tranquillity resumes and you are at peace again ... have you died? This was my overwhelming feeling on listening to this first track on "Stri" from contemporary Gaelic singer Maeve McKinnon.
I wrote that before reading the sleeve notes and realising that it wasn't that far from the true meaning of the song. This goes to prove how well the material conveys the message of the piece to one that does not have Gaelic.
"Roisin Dubh" or "Little Black Rose" is set in Ireland where lovers traversing hills and mountains, leap over Lough Erne in a single bound together and in so doing lose the purity of their souls. The story continues as the lovers have fun in defiance of the church, only the Pope can save them now. Toils and bad times are ahead of them, but here come the white friars to assist them before they perish. The music is slow and ethereal as the tale unfolds. The Uillean pipes take a leading role as the melancholy displayed by Maeve's vocals describes the scene.
Maeve Mackinnon is a Scottish folk singer. Originally from Glasgow, she performs primarily in Scottish Gaelic, but also in English. This is her third studio album in which she revisits some of her favourite "waulking" (or working) songs traditionally sung by woman in the Highlands. The word "Stri" means to strive or struggle. These hardy tough woman sang of battles, tragedies, break ups and romance. The CD is due for release on 2nd February 2018.
On the subject of a break up "Dh'fhalbh mo rùn air an aiseag" (My Love Left On A Ferry) tells the tale of Donald sailing away from his girl who harbours thoughts of making love to him, and being joined with him before the altar. Now he has been gone a year and returns dressed in the finest English cloth. But he sadly now loves another. The discarded woman thinks that she should be folding and caring for Donald's fine new clothes rather that this bad woman he has brought back with him. "Send her back to her homeland, my heart has been wounded; like an ember in flames." The song has the rhythmic pulse that a working song would require to ensure co-ordinated effort to complete a task. Again the pipes play a prominent and effective part in the melody.
"Moch an-diugh a rinn mi èirigh" (Early Today I Rise) begins with a drone from the heavens with a vocal refrain hardly audible, but becoming louder until Maeve's voice takes the lead. Our heroine is walking up a slope and she spots a small group of cattle and she hastens her step to exchange words with the herder. They gossip about the well being of others before she learns that her lover is betrothed to the daughter of an Earl. She is angry enough that thoughts of drawing blood race through her mind and considers making the crossing to Coll to see the dishonourable man, but then why should she? This man who bedded her and took her rosary. The beat of the music allows the listener to almost feel the girl laboriously plodding through the grass on her thankless journey getting angrier as she goes. This song segues straight into "Puirt-a-beul" (Mouth Music) in which the tempo rapidly increases to sound almost like scat singing in a jazz style. The gist of the story as I understand it, is that a man tries to palm off his daughter, a careless housewife, to another man before Handsome Donald, son of the Bailiff arrives. To any Gaelic speakers out there I apologise if I have misunderstood the meaning of the song.
I wrote earlier that the women sang of tragedies and "Ailean Duinn o hì shiubhlainn leat" (Dark Allan, I would go with you) is one such in which the woman bemoans the loss of her man through drowning, resolving to drink his blood even though she would hate do so. (It has already been said that these women were hardy). The lament has an atmospheric feel to it with strings and pipes supporting the vocal lead. The last note ringing and fading into the wind.
"Ceann Tràigh Ghruinneart" (The Head Of Ghruinneart Sands) This time the woman is leaving of her own accord. The man she is leaving is rough and tough, who would draw his sword and strike blows. It is a more upbeat number but the leaving is not without remorse for earlier actions. This is a danceable number which can be envisaged being played at a Ceilidh to a full dance floor.
"Bodachan a' Ghàrraidh" (Little Old Man In The Garden) Begins with what would normally be referred to as phased guitar sound, It is basically a wedding celebration involving the gardeners daughter. Produce from the garden was used as part of the wedding feast. The words come thick and fast and require some vocal dexterity to enunciate them clearly. It is a pleasant relief from some of the more dour songs of tragedy and loss which have gone before.
"We're Not Staying" is the sole representation of a song in English on this album. It depicts a scene where the parents of a small child have to flee to Peru before the soldiers come and search the house. Before they go, her brothers burn all incriminating documents and the young child not understanding, enjoys the blaze. When they get to their destination, they do not settle as they will soon return. It is sung as a narrative of a big change in the child's life. Maeve's accent adding a charm to the tale. The chorus has pleasing harmonies and the bridge has a melodious mix of flute and violin.
"O Mo Cheist am Fear Bàn" (Oh My Love The Fair One) A rueful woman laments the fact that she turned down the advances of a handsome fellow. It is suitably slow paced leaving time for the sorrow to have it's impact on the listener. It has some beautiful lyrics even in English, in Gaelic it conveys the sadness and the beauty abundantly.
You will have gathered that this reviewer does have Gaelic. Although this album is obviously aimed at those that speak the language, there is much that the non Gaelic speaker can gain from this CD, particularly with the very helpful sleeve notes which contains translations of the lyrics into English. The music is very evocative of the Highlands and Islands and those that love the place will find much to admire in the music.
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