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VARIOUS ARTISTS -Robert Burns – My Heart's In The Highlands

Robert Burns - My Heart's In The Highlands
Linn Records AKD 269

This is a welcome selection from Fred Freeman's epic production of the 12-CD Complete Songs of Robert Burns, which The Sunday Herald memorably described as "A remarkable achievement, comparable - in traditional music terms - to the painting of the Sistine Chapel or the King James VI translation of the bible." Some of the 20 tracks on this 60-minute CD were first released on Linn Records' 1999 selection Auld Lang Syne, drawn from the first 5 volumes, but if you want a CD to represent the whole stunning shebang, this is it. And why wouldn't you? If you've got the set, give this to your Canadian cousin or anyone else who loves Scotland's bard but has had to view him through the dirty lens of stylised Burns night suppers and suchlike flummery.

Here, the lens is wiped clean. The words and music are hauled fresh from two centuries ago by some of Scotland's finest. Many are youngish, to honour a man who was dead at 37. Name 6 of the 17 singers: Karine Polwart, Davy Steele, James Malcolm, Ian Bruce, Jim Reid, and Mairi Campbell. And 6 of the 36 musicians: Ian Lowthian (accordion), Jamie McMenemy (bouzouki), Catriona Macdonald (fiddle), Tony McManus (guitar), Ewan McPherson (mandolin), and Dougie Pincock (small pipes).

The selection of songs from the 360 or so in the series is perhaps hampered by the need to avoid too much duplication with the 1999 release (no Rantin', Rovin' Robin or Comin' Thro The Rye, for example), so this isn't quite a greatest hits album. Alongside such classic songs as A Man's A Man For A' That (sung by Ian Benzie) and Ae Fond Kiss (Mae McKenna) are lesser known ones like Lassie Wi' The Lintwhite Locks (Ian Bruce) and My Harry (Wendy Weatherby).

The packaging of this album will appeal more to a tourist than to your average LT reader. And using My Heart's In The Highlands as the title fails woefully to capture the man. But who can capture what Burns was all about? Why did he stop being a conventional poet and turn to writing lyrics in Scots dialect for old Scots tunes? What sort of a man takes that daft path to penury? A sort of folk hero? We can't give him royalties for these songs, but we raise a glass in thanks. In choosing to write for and about his own people he embraced all humanity.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 68 of The Living Tradition magazine.