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JIM MALCOLM - Acquaintance

JIM MALCOLM - Acquaintance
Beltane Record Belcd105

We all know Jim of course through his membership of Old Blind Dogs, which he left last year.  But that said, most of us will not realise that this is his SIXTH solo album.

And even those who do, just might have sinking hearts when they read the secondary title along the bottom of the CD cover:  “Jim Malcolm sings songs of Robert Burns”. I can see them now saying “Haven’t we thoroughly reached saturation stage with Burns?   How many more Scottish singers are going to do their Burns albums: CDs that often add little to the considerable body of interpretations of Burns songs that have gone before?  I mean English artistes don’t record albums of Burns’s near contemporary John Clare every five minutes!  What’s the game?”

I can see and hear them saying it, but they’d be on dodgy ground. True, Clare was a fine poet, from the humblest of origins like Rabbie, but that is where the similarity ends.  For Burns often wrote his poem as a song lyric with a view to fitting to a melody (indeed, he wrote over a hundred songs); Clare however had all the melody he wanted, in the song warblers in the hedgerows.

So with such a considerable body of work from their most famous poet at their disposal, it is natural that Scots singers want to choose their top 14 or so, and lay the tracks down for posterity.  And so Jim Malcolm is no different here from any other performer.

And neither am I, as a listener, different to other potential buyers of this album.  It strikes me that as Burns is a universal writer (remember he is still the most popular British poet in Russia!), Jim Malcolm will be aiming this CD at far beyond the Caledonian diaspora.  Ideally, aiming at someone like me: not exactly an authority on Burns, but someone who has more than once done the Burns trail and visited all the houses and places related to him from Kirkcudbright right up to Aberdeen (via Ayrshire and Dumfries), and someone who whilst needing the glossary (which happily the CD provides), has a smattering of the Scots vernacular that Burns used to such delicious effect.

So, let’s cut to the quick.   Would I buy this album to add to my Burns collection?   Yes, I think I would. The man’s voice is just a wee bit too laid back on occasions – almost as horizontal as Rod Paterson’s – and could do with a bit more of the passion that made Burns the man he was, but that said, it is a marvellously assured performance from Jim.  And not only “Mister” Malcolm: his “Other Half” also proves a revelation. Susie Malcolm (Jim tells us in his fine liner notes) had to be bullied by him to go into the studio and take the microphone.  Eh?  What a rum affair!

For the fact is, she delivers The Ploughman with real brio: with the confidence of a tried and tested campaigner.   And even better, her harmony vocals are top-drawer: I love her chorus singing throughout, and especially in Rantin Rovin Robin (some sweet harmonica from Jim here too).

And talking of the liner notes, there is some sublime wit at work there.  I laughed out loud at this comment regarding The Shepherd’s Wife: “The song demonstrates that the woman who thinks that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, is aiming too high.”

Nice one.

Dai Woosnam.


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This album was reviewed in Issue 74 of The Living Tradition magazine.