Ian Bruce

Ian Bruce - The Demons Dance

I’ve never owned, let alone reviewed, an Ian Bruce CD before. Turns out that’s my misfortune rather than his, cos I have to say that this is never less than good, more than that in others bits, and contains a blindingly good rendition of the best song I’ve heard for a year or two. I’ll get to that, but first…

Ian hasn’t fallen into the trap of putting quantity before quality, something that often seems to bedevil those who produce CDs. You must’ve encountered CDs which have anything from 15-17 tracks, some of which cause you to you wonder if the quality inspector was asleep at his post and let a half dozen of the inferior ones past to the detriment of the work as a whole, rather than preserving just a dozen superior tracks which no one would’ve needed to feel apologetic about. Ian sticks to giving us 11 good tracks, the longest of which are a couple of which come in over 5 minutes, so the album is a tight work of shifting moods and subjects which keep the listeners attention because of the quality of the writing, the accompanying musicians, (Angus Lyon on piano and accordion makes a particularly outstanding contribution to creating some of those “moods” of the album) and last but certainly not least, the singing. Ian is singing well with maturity to the voice that finds him keeping the drama under control using it only where really indicated, and his version of ‘The last watch on the Midland’ is an example of a fine song being given a fine treatment. His own (with co-writer Charlie Milne) ‘Arrogant man’ is a song about being judged on appearances and people only seeing the exterior. As he looks like a fearsome extra from ‘The Terminator’ but has much more intelligence and sensitivity, then the song has real resonance with the singer and it’s an interesting piece which he manages both to zoom through yet be reflective at the same time, and is such an honest open piece it is irresistible.

Stephen Clark wrote the stunner of a song I mentioned earlier, and Ian does two things for it. He moves it to a Scottish reading so that “Coming Home” becomes “Comin Hame”. Might sound a small thing to do, but it makes a very fine song even better because it fits the vital “A’ Jock Tamsons Bairns” language that is used elsewhere in the song. Secondly he so much makes it his own that I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t. Married to his great interpretation the song describes the abused of different countries viewed variously as our “brithers sisters, faither and mither”, making their new homes in Scotland, “comin hame tae a land they’ve never been” Intensely moving reading of a song that’s way up there with the humanitarianism of a Hamish Henderson, and thankfully the absence of a preaching demeanour that’s so much the case in Ians’ personal appearances carries through to the recorded version. Buy it Bono ye mullet heid and learn!

Fine album – love to see a collaborative effort with the other Ian (Walker) as a future project as they balance each other even better than Itchy & Scratchy, but till then this is well worthy of your attention.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 63 of The Living Tradition magazine.