Kirsty’s a traditional singer based in Aberdeenshire, who clearly takes her musical and spiritual cues from her mother, Alison McMorland, on several of whose own albums she’s appeared over the past few years. Kirsty has a keen taste for adapting traditional material in an eclectic mix of styles, while paying close respect to the original sources. But at the same time her tastes and experiences have broadened out into other realms of world music, even gospel, blues and jazz, and these strands also inform her performance and outlook, with the result that Kirsty’s debut album The Seeds Of Life delivers a surprising range of diverse musical experiences, some of which are distinctly unexpected. For example, the CD’s opening track, Scotland’s Peace Train, a rolling gospel-flavoured number with full-on electric backing, finds Kirsty in Mahalia Jackson mode, taking incidental inspiration from the Gandhi, King, Ikeda exhibition at last year’s Dundee Peace Festival as she steams through the Scottish landscape she loves and inhabits. Maybe this track overstays its welcome a little, but to be fair a number of the disc’s other tracks are just as extended, one or two even more so, and not at all to their detriment.
The majority of the tracks are based around traditional Scots songs, for the fresh reinterpretation and arrangement of which Kirsty has clearly taken a personal, and singularly innovative, approach. In the case of Cuckoo’s Nest this means electric folk-rock, and the Child Ballad Bonnie Annie becomes a powerful bluesy-soul number; but even when the scoring is less upholstered by rhythm sections and the like the rich-toned settings are clear-sighted and satisfying in their response to the texts. Kirsty has surrounded herself with a dream-team of Scotland-based musicians comprising Alasdair Roberts (guitars and bass), Bhundu Boy Rise Kagona (electric guitar), Claire White (fiddle), Frances Wilkins (concertina), Donald Lindsay (smallpipes, whistle) and Anne Wood (fiddle, viola); Alison and her husband Geordie McIntyre also contribute (mostly chorus vocals) to the album. Moreover, internationally renowned producer and percussionist Mattie Foulds is a key creative force in helping Kirsty realise her artistic vision and his technical expertise is responsible for much of its signature sound.
The disc is a long one (70 minutes), but time never drags, not least because each song is both completely self-contained and almost always makes sense within the context of its surroundings. Unquestioned highlights include the sparsely-scored sumptuousness of The Seeds Of Love, with its delicious combination of just fiddle and concertina making a seriously beautiful foil for Kirsty’s vocal arrangement, and the lovely new “roles-reversed” rendition of Harry Clifton’s anthem Pulling Hard Against The Stream; the resilient seaman’s hymn Will Your Anchor Hold? complements these choices particularly well. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, we find the rumbustious comic song Betsy Belle (from the singing of Belle Stewart) and Kirsty’s imaginative Afro-Scottish-fusion arrangement of A Wee Bird Cam Tae My Apron, both in their own way highly delectable and totally infectious. There’s also a kind of sub-theme to the album, which sits unapologetically alongside the exclusively traditional fare: the “courage of one’s convictions” brand of political “message song” that embraces Geordie’s own Now More Than Ever (written in 2008 to highlight 50 years of CND in Scotland) and Pete Seeger’s If I Had A Hammer; for the latter, Kirsty has reverted to Pete’s original melody, which makes a nice change from the over-familiar, hackneyed PP&M retread.
The disc also contains a few slightly curious moments, like the three brief snippets of “sounds from space” interspersed amongst the songs, and not quite every song selection quite “fits” – for instance, I wasn’t especially convinced by the inclusion of Woe Is Me, a fun number which Kirsty used to sing with a jazz band in the early ’80s. But these minor quirks are entirely forgivable in the company of such illustrious and well-considered accounts of the traditional material here, and Kirsty ought to be enormously proud to have delivered so classy, persuasive and accomplished – and spiritually and musically satisfying – a debut album as The Seeds Of Life.
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