Formed thirteen years ago as a result of Germany's long-standing love affair with Celtic music, the current line-up of Cara features four of that country's finest traditional musicians, together with the celebrated Scottish singer-songwriter and pianist Kim Edgar. Cara deliver an innovative blend of old and new material, with traditional and folk-pop stylings. Their fifth studio album (and the second featuring Edinburgh's very own Kim Edgar) was released in mid-January 2016 and, following the UK launch of "Yet We Sing" during Celtic Connections in Glasgow, the band undertook a short Scottish tour, finishing with a gig at Edinburgh's Queen's Hall on 30th January.
Cara were given a warm and enthusiastic reception to the stage for their first-ever Edinburgh gig, in what must have been a very proud and emotional moment for Leith-based Kim Edgar. Fittingly, it was Kim who took the lead in the opening song, the sweeping and imaginative "A Leaf For A Sail", written by Kim and featuring her trademark graceful vocals and elegant piano. The song was also notable for some captivating harmonies from Kim and Gudrun Walther and a series of soaring instrumental passages, giving an early indication of the band's tight and fluent ensemble playing.
"The Legend Of Lisalway", the first in a number of sparkling and energetic tune sets, allowed all five band members to flex their musical muscles, individually and collectively, with the audience clapping along delightedly. Cara's take on the epic murder ballad, "Little Musgrave" was the first opportunity to enjoy Gudrun Walther's warm and expressive vocals, which alternated with some dramatic musical interludes as the song built towards its tragic denouement. Meanwhile, the beautiful melody of the Scandinavian-influenced "The Land of the Midnight Sun" produced some exquisite fiddle playing from Gudrun. The gentler side of Cara's impressive instrumental capabilities was also evident in the soothing and fluid dobro playing of Jurgen Treys, notably on the aptly-titled "A Wee Dobro Tune". This was in contrast to Jurgen's quicksilver blues and jazz guitar licks and percussive rhythm guitar on the faster tunes.
Another traditional ballad, "The Elfin Knight", offered a quietly compelling vocal from Kim Edgar, showing her mastery of singing in the Scots language, and was underpinned by delicate shades of piano and accordion. Informing us that the moral of the song was "don't trust anyone from Edinburgh!", Kim also launched into the jaunty Scots of "The Brewer's Lad", daring the audience to join in on the totally tongue-twisting choruses.....
Two further pulsating sets of jigs and reels, "Heroes" and "The Exploding Case", delivered more sparkling interplay between the band members and underlined Hendrik Morgenbrodt's versatility, as he excelled on uillean pipes, flute and whistles. The subtlety and power of Rolf Wagel's bodhran provided the rock-solid foundation for Cara's instrumental virtuosity. The audience was left to ponder on any connection between the goat skin stretched on the bodhran and Rolf's veterinary skills.....
Gudrun Walther's original composition, "Cain's War", reflected on the tragic loss of life down the ages as a result of so-called religious wars and featured a passionate lead vocal and stirring musical embellishment. "Blood, Ice And Ashes", a quietly menacing tale of revenge and murder, was notable for mesmerising vocals and piano from Kim Edgar and it was interesting to note that this was the song (written a few years ago by Kim, Karine Polwart and King Creosote) which had prompted Gudrun to invite Kim to join Cara some two years ago.
The well-deserved encore brought forth more lively, toe-tapping tunes from the full band and ended with the quietly defiant "Yet We Sing", a celebration of the healing power of music and song, with the audience singing along on the gently uplifting choruses.
With their winning combination of top quality song-craft and exhilarating tune sets, it's easy to see why Cara are regarded as one of the best live bands in Europe, described by one critic as "a whole festival wrapped up in one band". Cara also combine their prodigious talents with genuine warmth, good humour and a ready wit, generating a real feel-good factor at their gigs. This may have been Cara's first live performance in Edinburgh but the delighted audience left the venue hoping that the band will be regular visitors to Scotland's capital in the future.
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