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SCOTTISH WOMEN - Various Artistes Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX 261

Following in the footsteps of earlier Greentrax releases 'Scots Women' and 'Gaelic Women', this generously filled CD boasts some of the most distinctive and best loved female voices from the contemporary Scottish/Gaelic scene. The 'Scottish Women' tour was premiered at Celtic Connections in January 2002, followed by a Scottish Arts Council-backed Highland tour. And what a marvellous live recording this is, complete with the odd vocal flaw; it captures each performer's pleasure at singing for an appreciative audience. The song arrangements are brilliant, allowing each singer to come to the fore, their solo passages punctuated by satisfying, rousing choruses; sleeve notes are scarcely needed when you're listening to voices this distinctive. Instrumentation is used well (piano, accordion, pipes, whistles, fiddle and percussion feature), and the songs, from both Gaelic and Scots traditions, are well chosen. There's some lovely, knowing humour from the legendary Sheila Stewart with her words of caution for young girls, 'Maids When You're Young'. Ray Fisher recites her excellent 'Mother's Ruin' to the audience's obvious delight. There's some fine puirt a beul sung by Mairi MacInnes and Anna Murray, a lively set of work songs, and the superbly rousing 'Hey Donald', where lucky drummer Mike Travis appears to have been completely surrounded by all 15 Scottish Women! The highly individual vocal styles of the remaining chief protagonists are amply represented - Annie Grace, the Mackenzie sisters, Margaret Bennett, Ishbel MacAskill, Karine Polwart, Corrina Hewat, Maggie MacInnes, Sheena Wellington and Elspeth Cowie all excel here with beautifully chosen songs; laments, ballads, Burns' 'Slave's Lament' - and there's a nice balance between English and Gaelic language in the selections. I vividly recall the words of Sheila Stewart in a BBC Radio programme: "I sing the songs with a conyach, which means the emotion or feeling that you put into the ballads. Some songs, I don't hear myself singing them, but I hear my family singing them, and I connect to them as I sing." I wonder how many of these women experience that emotion too, as they sing? The last words on the sleeve notes say: "Let's do it again." I've no doubt that they will.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.