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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Bu Chaoin Leam Bhith N Uibhist: Gaelic Songs From The North Uist Tradition

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Bu Chaoin Leam Bhith N Uibhist: Gaelic Songs From The North Uist Tradition
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX9025

This new release of archive material is the 25th in the Scottish Tradition series of recordings from The School Of Scottish Studies at the University Of Edinburgh and comes with all the attributes of previous volumes in the series: high-quality performances, fine remastering, authoritative choice of material and comprehensive notes and full texts (and perfectly effective near-translations) supplied within a typically chunky booklet – in other words, in accordance with usual excellent Greentrax house standards.

The project’s editor, Margaret Callan, has clearly immersed herself fully in these recordings and her selection of 28 representative performances reflects her keen appreciation of, and deep affection for, the North Uist Gaelic song tradition as practised in the third quarter of the 20th century, just as the performances themselves reflect the singers’ unreserved natural respect for their own cultural heritage. The listener is provided with a unique opportunity to experience, under one roof as it were, the rich and extensive repertoire of the community, through the contrasting performances of men and women from different generations, embodying a diversity of local dialects and singing styles.

The actual recordings date from between 1950 (four tracks by Donald MacLean: some a touch variable in sound quality but still acceptable) and 1975. Particularly impressive listening it all makes, although I might single out memorable moments provided by the Rev. William Matheson (Òran An Ròin), Mrs. Helen Morrison (the ballad An Eala Bhàn and the love song A Fhleasgaich Òig As Ceanalta) and Ronald John MacDonald (Horó, Chan Eil Cadal Orm), the latter two mentioned coming complete with chorus singers’ contributions. Nevertheless, there’s not a single performance here that’s not both compelling on its own terms and treasurable. Occasional curiosities like the fading-out of the final track and some deficiencies in technique – as on Miss Kate McCormick’s slightly strained rendition of a piping song (Canntaireachd) – are of course entirely forgivable in context of the importance of these recordings.

The songs themselves don’t conform to any one category or group of categories and range from love songs, cradle songs and spiritual verse to humorous songs, from homeland songs to puirt-à-beul, milking and waulking songs. But whatever the category, the immediacy and integrity of each and every individual performance is palpable, and the disc’s 67 minutes seem to pass by in but a moment.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.