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Buie Records BUIECD03

Though Mairearad’s still very much active in a duo partnership with Anna Massie, her latest album is a fabulous solo project that’s nothing less than a labour of love; a sketchbook suite of self-penned pieces both evoking and paying affectionate tribute to an especially magical part of the Scottish west coast – the Summer Isles, nestled in Loch Broom off Achiltibuie – close to her heart and her parents’ home. Its rugged patchwork is at once cinematic and impressionistic, celebratory and depictive, and takes account of the appearances and moods of nature and the impact of human occupation on the region’s local life and landscape. Three of the pieces take their lyrics from local artist and poet, Jan Kilpatrick.

On a purely musical basis, there’s a considerable variety of expression in the CD’s 10 items, wherein Mairearad’s own diverse musical experiences and contacts are in turn reflected in the artistic personalities of the collaborators with whom she’s surrounded herself. There’s a lovely sense of contentment to Mairearad’s vision, which enraptures her listeners too with its strong sense of belonging and identification. Many of the individual pieces making up the suite are vocally-driven, and although several feature Mairearad’s own charismatic singing (I particularly liked the lilting Blessing On Tanera), other highlights come with the indie-flavoured Star Of Hope (sporting lead vocal from King Creosote) and the various tracks that feature Hector MacInnes. Fellow-singers Annie Grace, Jeana Leslie and Hamish Napier are responsible for backing vocals, while the instrumental contributions of Iain Hutchison, Mike Vass, Ross Saunders, Scott Mackay, Jo Nicolson and Pat McGarvey are first-rate and sympathetic, entirely in tune with Mairearad’s own lyrical, dextrous accordion, pipes and piano playing. The powerful pounding beats of the ocean tell the story of standout track Seanchaidh, while a thorny resilience of expression characterises Stone And Struggle, and the curiously jaunty Parisian-café-waltz gait of Mairearad’s portrait of Red Throated Diver comes as a charming surprise.

The album’s carefully-configured yet natural-sounding procession of moods and tone-portraits is as spellbinding and hypnotic as the ebb and flow of the tides, while at the same time shot through with the spontaneous calls of the natural world. Lapping waters provide a kind of musical motif throughout the album, either on the surface of the rhythms or almost subliminally, and the total effect is as soothing as it is stimulating: like the landscape itself, beautiful and exciting.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 113 of The Living Tradition magazine.