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Robyn Stapleton Robyn Stapleton
Album: Songs Of Robert Burns
Label: Laverock
Tracks: 12

Robyn was brought up in the south-west of Scotland, and has a natural affinity with the poetry of Robert Burns; it was through her appreciation of the Scots language and Scotland’s musical heritage through Burns that she was first introduced to singing, so this album, her second solo record, brings her full circle so to speak. Indeed, since winning BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician award in 2014 she’s been increasingly regarded as an outstanding interpreter of Scots song – especially the works of Burns – and has invited to perform Burns’ songs on TV and radio. It’s fitting, therefore, that this new collection of songs of Robert Burns should concentrate on some of the most popular works. And it’s equally fitting that it should (and I’m sure will) for many listeners be considered something of a definitive selection, for Robyn’s exceedingly adept at conveying the very essence of Burns and his world with maximum charm and minimum (i.e. no) distraction or fuss. In other words, her singing is warm-toned, pure and unadorned, and she’s completely in tune with the sensibility of Burns’ work, treating it with exactly the right measure of love and respect. Burns tellingly explores the themes of humanity, history, love and nature in his poetry, and Robyn proves herself the ideal communicator.

Robyn could not be better served by her accompanying musicians, a small and flexible ensemble comprising Patsy Reid (fiddle, viola), Aaron Jones (bouzouki, guitar), Innes White (guitar, mandolin), Alistair Iain Paterson (piano, harmonium) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion), with isolated appearances by Claire Mann (flute), Ryan MacKenzie (piano) and Jenna Reid (fiddle). There’s an extra treat in store on four of the songs (Westlin Winds, Red Red Rose, Parcel Of Rogues and Auld Lang Syne), which are delightfully scored for string quartet. The settings evoke, and return us to, the kind of setting with which Burns himself would have been familiar – that of the art-song, with the colours of chamber music: just perfect.

Perhaps my favourites among Robyn’s interpretations are the darkly passionate Slave’s Lament, the haunting Ca’ The Yowes, the delicately autobiographical There Was A Lad (aka Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin), and the brief John Anderson, My Jo (the only song to be done a cappella here), but it would be no exaggeration to judge several of the rest as among the finest available renditions on record (and there are quite a few!). Just occasionally, I detect a mild whiff of politeness, notably where there’s a slight smoothing-over of a song’s emotional contours (Westlin Winds, for instance), but by and large it’s hard (if not impossible) to fault Robyn’s interpretive decisions when her musical decisions are so beautifully managed and her singing is so persuasive. My only grumble with this well-presented, impeccably recorded and attractively-packaged disc is its comparatively ungenerous playing-time (41 minutes), which takes the well-worn maxim of “leave ’em wanting more” a tad too literally methinks.

David Kidman