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Beltane Records BELCD109

Jim is simply one of the most reliable of Scottish performers and veteran of a healthy number of projects comprising his own self-penned songs over the course of nine CDs and three decades. On his latest CD, Still, however, his intention was to ring the changes somewhat by recording an album of largely traditional Scottish songs and most interestingly, the impetus for doing this came from his good friend Brent Rutherford from California, whose extensive knowledge of Scottish ballads enabled suggestions for a choice of material that suits Jim’s own performing style down to the ground. As do the warm and uncomplicated musical settings too, which centre around Jim’s gentle guitar and harmonica playing and feature accompaniment from guest musicians Marc Duff (whistles, bodhrán), Pete Clark (fiddle), Dave Watt (keyboards) with vocal harmonies by Susie Malcolm on a handful of songs. These resources are deployed effectively at all times and genuinely complement Jim’s thoughtful vocal interpretations.

The Baron O’ Brackley, which kicks the album off, receives a suitably animated reading, with a spirited fiddle solo to boot, while James Hogg’s stirring anthem Both Sides The Tweed (using Dick Gaughan’s melody) is reflectively characterised; the Gaughan connection runs through into Erin Go Bragh too (the Tannahill song which he popularised). Jock O’ Hazeldean is charmingly done in a lilting 3/4 time, while further on into this collection we find Jim’s take on Pills Of White Mercury (allegedly the original of Streets Of Laredo), which he’s finally fulfilled his ambition to record, and an appealingly wistful version of Belle Stewart’s Queen Amang The Heather. The album’s closing stages are impressive too, especially The Scot’s Lament, written by Kitty and Kennedy Allen for Will Fyffe with a tune by Gordon Millar (although I tend to concur with Jim himself in that the tale’s ending proves less than convincing). The disc’s other non-traditional selection is Jim’s own Forth Bridge Song, which we learn was written for a competition to commemorate the bridge’s 100th anniversary in 1990 (and rather surprisingly didn’t win); this rolls along its track most companionably. As indeed does everything Jim sings; for if there’s any small criticism, it’s that Jim’s interpretations tend occasionally towards being a touch too soft-grained and easygoing, even leisurely, almost to a fault. It’s only really on MacPherson’s Rant that the tempo gets up a head of steam, so to speak. But the upside is that Jim always gives us quality, make no mistake, so Still is unlikely to invoke any serious cause for complaint.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.