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JIM MALCOLM - The Corncrake

JIM MALCOLM - The Corncrake
Beltane Records BELCD110

This latest venture from Jim is in effect the second half of a collection of traditional Scottish songs which began with his album Still a year or so back. Well, not quite all traditional, for the track list also includes a gently captivating account of Violet Jacob’s Hallowee’en (here using Jim Reid’s beautifully apt melody)… but who am I to be pedantic?…

The Corncrake – which I must mention at the outset comes encased in a very attractive digipack – presents a sequence of songs that, happily, aren’t in the same ‘endangered species’ class as the bird itself, although it forms the subject of The Echo Mocks The Corncrake, a rather lovely song of obscure origin for which Jim posits a potential Burns connection. Jim didn’t get round to recording The Bonny Earl O’ Moray with Old Blind Dogs, so he now gives us his take on the ballad here, and it’s a brave move to follow this with another big ballad, Clerk Saunders – but Jim carries this off almost casually, yet without making light of its ominous tale (despite the sweetness of its melody!). Jim’s “good fast” take on The Cruel Mither incorporates some nice bluesy harmonica fills, while the energised, refrain-rich bothy ballad Tattie Jock is (surprisingly perhaps) less well-known. Jim’s account of When First I Came To Caledonia is one of the finest available, while The Merchant’s Son and Twa Recruiting Sergeants do sterling duty as the album’s rollicking “come all ye” bookends.

Some aficionados of traditional song may find Jim’s approach on occasion a touch underplayed, and the sweetly companionable and entirely accessible nature of his chosen instrumental backdrops (involving the proven talents of special guests Pete Clark, Marc Duff, Scooter Muse and Dave Watt) may to some extent accentuate this impression, but there’s no lack of passion or involvement in Jim’s treatments (nor in the beautiful vocal harmonies from Jim’s wife Susie).

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.