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LAURA MACKENZIE - From Uig To Duluth

LAURA MACKENZIE - From Uig To Duluth
Private Label

Laura is based in Northfield, Minnesota, which might seem a rather unlikely locale to spawn a CD of Scottish Gaelic music and song. However, it turns out that the songs and melodies she’s chosen to present on this disc were sourced primarily from field recordings made in Duluth, Minnesota in 1937 by a Scottish singer, John Matheson, who had emigrated there from Uig in the Outer Hebrides just over 30 years previously; these recordings are archived in the Library Of Congress. Laura’s a full-time musician who has worked primarily in the Irish folk scene, but her grandfather came to Minnesota from a Gaelic-speaking region of rural Nova Scotia back in 1878, so she naturally felt something of a personal call for taking on a project to set about learning – and then bringing to a wider audience – some songs from these old recordings.

With the help of harpist Andrea Stern and Altan’s guitarist Dáithí Sproule, Laura has arranged a total of 15 of those songs for this CD: nine are sung (just one, Caidil Gu Là - Sleep Till Daybreak – is rendered a cappella) and the remaining six have been turned into instrumental pieces that Laura brands as “traditional wind-powered music” – this most probably because she plays wooden flutes, whistles, Scottish smallpipes and concertina as well as singing!

The songs encompass deep longing as well as humorous exploits, and many have a special connection to Scottish heritage in America. Whatever the mood or import, though, Laura and her colleagues skilfully and subtly convey the songs’ essence with a gentle, light touch. While not intending to question the validity of this approach, some might feel that the resulting playful feel, however delightful, occasionally betokens a slight underselling of their emotional content. Having said that, for the most part it’s still easy to be won over by the creative flair of Laura’s performances. Lyrics and translations are provided on Laura’s website.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 109 of The Living Tradition magazine.