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Siobhan Miller Siobhan Miller
Album: Strata
Label: Songprint
Tracks: 11

Siobhan Miller's second solo release, recorded with a wide and accomplished set of musicians, is drawn largely from songs the two-time Scots Singer of the Year at the Trad Music Awards grew up listening to and performing. Miller's voice is capable of delivering songs with surprising gusto, at the same time as having an almost ethereal quality where required, and the variety present in this set reflects that diverse range.

The traditional "Banks of Newfoundland", which opens, fairly scoots over a solid backbeat from Louis Abbott, aided by Aaron Jones' bouzouki guitar. It's followed by "What You Do With What You've Got", a staple of Dick Gaughan's repertoire, from whom Miller seems to have drawn significant inspiration, and then by a delicate interpretation of "One Too Many Mornings". If I have any criticism of this, it's that Miller's voice doesn't really benefit from the reinforcement offered by Abbott's backing vocal, but the piano, guitar and viola backing is nicely restrained.

"Pound a Week Rise" is, of course, another Gaughan staple, and Miller changes gear here, producing a remarkably robust version of what is now almost industrial history, Jones and Kris Drever providing rhythmic back-up, and Phil Cunningham contributing restrained but effective accordion. "The Unquiet Grave" returns us to trad arr territory, though Miller's version surprisingly seems closer related to the tune favoured by The Dubliners than to that previously essayed by her accompanist here, Kris Drever, in Lau's version. Miller's voice is at its breathiest here, but she controls this element of her singing so much more than many of her contemporaries, producing a suitably mournful and at the same time deeply lovely effect.

Bob Franke's "Thanksgiving Eve" benefits from a very effective droney fiddle solo and backing from Aidan O'Rourke. Whilst "The Sun Shine High" is also driven by a robust snare pattern from Abbott. Miller's voice on this combines a firmly Scots accent with a purity of tone that crystallises the traditional tale around a gradually swelling, almost orchestral backing. One of the strongest songs on the album. "The Month of January" is taken almost at a country trot, and "False, False", as may be expected, is much more restrained, giving Miller's voice more room to emote round the guitar patterns of Jones and the viola of Megan Henderson. A final traditional song "Bonny Light Horseman" loops around itself effortlessly, Miller's voice and Smedley's fiddle taking turns over Jones' and Drever's string foundations, with producer Euan Burton's bass and Abbott's drums gradually taking their part in driving the song forward and around. If they had extended this by a further five minutes, I really wouldn't have minded, it has such a relaxed and enjoyable vibe.

I have fond memories of "The Rambling' Rover" from early session days, and I did wonder how Miller would manage lines like "yer bowels have got colitis" as the closer to her set, but it's treated with a firm hand (if that doesn't conjure up too queazy a vision!), Cunningham returning to a song from his Silly Wizard days, and most of the ensemble joining in. The album was recorded "live" in the studio by Burton, and this final song does indeed sound as if there was an end of show feel to this part of the session.

A fine album, which showcases the variety Miller and friends are capable of. It'll be interesting to hear more contemporary songs in the future, but in the meantime this will do very well indeed.

Harry Thomson