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Private Label SCG495

Sinsheen (Scots for sunshine, brightness or cheerfulness) is the name given – entirely aptly – to the duo comprising Barbara Dymock & Christine Kydd, two well-established Scottish singers with a solid pedigree (Barbara was the original vocalist with Ceolbeg, while Christine has sung with Chantan and Janet Russell) who have an enviably symbiotic working relationship that shines gloriously through in this their debut recording. Here they present a charmingly spicy collection that boldly brings together a host of traditional Scottish material (including, fittingly, a healthy quotient of songs both by and associated with Burns) which they’ve gleefully reworked, along with a canny and quite personal choice of contemporary songs, in which respect (although to a varying degree) there’s distinct kinship with similarly eclectically-inclined ensembles such as Grace Notes and the Silly Sisters (Prior and Tabor); bridges between the traditional and the contemporary are built as naturally as breathing.

Sinsheen’s CD is itself equally aptly titled, for it gives a real lift to one’s day, and not only in the more rousing moments like the gospel number Canaan’s Land and a wonderfully forthright rendition of Walter Robinson’s Harriet Tubman. Everywhere the ladies’ singing just oozes Life; the overwhelming feeling you get is that they really enjoy what they’re doing and they mean every word and nuance, and the result, captured in telling detail by the disc’s producer Michael Marra, is unstintingly fresh and invigorating.

Although Sinsheen sing mostly in acappella mode, they’re not averse to employing where necessary a little instrumental backing. This entails Christine’s nimble but straightforwardly unfussy guitar playing on five songs (their version of Loch Lomond is a particular delight) and a modicum of percussion from Barbara on three, while the good Mr Marra takes to the piano for two tracks including Sinsheen’s brilliantly idiomatic take on his own satirical chanson Mother Glasgow.

I guess you might term Sinsheen’s performances old-fashioned, but not in any pejorative sense – rather that they represent good honest folk singing, sung from the heart and with a true understanding of the words, given settings where any accompaniments are provided for what they can add to the expression of the songs rather than as convenient vehicles for showing off instrumental skills. And the ladies’ keen ear for contrast comes with the disc’s judicious sequencing: it opens and closes especially beguilingly with As I Was A Wand’ring and Farewell To Tarwathie respectively, between which we encounter the altogether livelier adventures of Martinmas Time, Weary Waiting, and the innuendo-laden Cooper o’Cuddy Set. The whole disc is a triumph of unison and harmony singing, and is guaranteed to live up to its name.

David Kidman

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