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PŪR - The Lassies’ Reply

The Lassies’ Reply
 MacDug DUG002

This enterprising disc was issued quite late last year, to coincide with the Burns “Year Of Homecoming” celebrations, but even within that context it can be considered a unique offering in that it presents a selection of Burns’ songs sung in both Gaelic and Scots. O ye gods! not another album of Burns settings, I hear you cry – but hold your fire! For to release a whole album of fresh new contemporary arrangements of Burns songs would be a brave undertaking for any Scottish act, let alone a hitherto all but unknown one. But Pūr turns out to be a duo made up of two of Scotland’s brightest young traditional musicians, Scots singer and fiddler Shona Donaldson and Gaelic singer Katie Mackenzie: neither has yet reached her mid-twenties, and yet both already impress with their gorgeous, pure-toned vocal armoury that’s worth the disc’s price alone.

Each lass sings equally persuasively in either language, a feature which further emphasises the common ground between the two Scottish “cultures” and their healthy co-existence. (Of course, Burns was inspired, by his Highlands Tour of 1787, to write many of his songs from a Highland viewpoint, some being specifically composed to be sung to Gaelic airs; usefully, several of these are included on this disc.) But the icing on the cake is provided by the graceful and superbly classy musical arrangements (courtesy of producer Irvin Duguid) with which the singers are blessed. These leave the song’s original melodies intact, yet couch them in fresh, admirably selectively clear-textured settings utilising the talents of a host of excellent Scottish musicians including guitarists John Goldie and Anna Massie, percussionist James Mackintosh, clarsach player Mary Ann Kennedy, accordionist Gary Innes, whistle player Hamish Napier and the string ensemble Mr. McFall’s Chamber, with some scintillating bluesy harmonica work from Fraser Spiers on a couple of the songs.

There’s no shortage of sprightly energy in these inventive new settings of often quite well-worn songs, with a lithe spring in the step of I’m O’er Young To Marry Yet and a deliciously cautious syncopation brought to John Anderson My Jo; the lovely Highland Balou is a real discovery, while Ae Fond Kiss scores by not being quite able to make its mind up whether it’s a barroom or ballroom waltz. From the delicate, measured Highland Widow’s Lament to the more casual coolness of Ca’ The Yowes and the funkier climes of The Slave’s Lament and Green Grow The Rashes, O, the sheer tastefulness of the arrangements retains enough of an edge to genuinely and characterfully support the songs, even if there may be isolated moments when Ivan’s keyboard work may be considered a touch over-prominent. The Lassies’ Reply is a beautiful, intriguingly original and most pleasing and rewarding disc.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.