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Private Label TFTR001

Debut album from an all-female quartet from Dumfries (Claire Hastings), Lancashire (Tina Jordan Rees), Aberdeen (Heather Downie) and Ireland (Gráinne Brady) – so lots of influences to choose from, and they are all represented on this lovely ‘calling card’ CD. Claire does most of the lead singing and was 2015’s BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year. She’s a glorious singer. I hear hints of Karine Polwart and Siobhan Miller (which I don’t think will offend Claire - if you’re going to have influences, make them good ones!). She also plays ukulele, while Gráinne, Heather and Tina provide fiddle, clarsach and keyboard respectively – and also sing.

With all this RSAMD-trained talent, you’d expect virtuosity and yes, you get it. So what does it sound like?

The choice of songs is extremely smart. There are one or two folk-standards in new clothing; Johnny O’Braidislee is given a dark, keyboard-led treatment that brings out the drama in the story beautifully. At another extreme, Andy M. Stewart’s much-loved Ramblin’ Rover is a jolly romp through this smile-inducing song. It’s slightly more delicate than some that I’ve heard, but not too prettified - Claire clearly enjoys wrapping her vocal chords around “your bowels have got colitis, you've gallopin' bollockitis...” Interestingly, this same song appears on Siobhan Miller’s Strata – it’s nice to see Andy M’s genius being recognised and celebrated by the current generation. Leonard Cohen’s resigned-but-unusually-cheery Everybody Knows is a timely and up-beat nod to another huge, much-missed talent. There are also a couple of self-penned songs – including Jeannie And The Spider, that takes a poke at the way relationships work – and a couple of other songs written by the likes of Findlay Napier (Princess Roseanna) and Aaron Fyfe (Campfires).

The biggest ‘risk’ and the biggest (nice) surprise for me is, however, Richard Thompson’s fabulous 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – also terrific in their live set. I almost committed a great sin at the Taivers’ 2016 gig in Penicuik by singing this, one of my all-time favourite songs, as their opening act. (I think beheading is the punishment for this heinous crime!) Happily, I plumped for Beeswing! I’ve heard some weird versions of Black Lightning as singers try to make the song their own, with mixed success. The Taivers’ version respects the overall ‘feel’ of the original without trying to simply copy it. It’s also interesting to hear the story told by a female voice.

So – would you like this? I’ve given you the singing links / possible influences above. Heather’s strong and rhythmic harp playing means that if you like Corrina Hewat’s work, you’ll probably like this. I could go on. If you like good, varied songs, intelligently arranged with passion and muscle, you will love this CD. I do.

Alan Murray

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This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.