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Gillebrìde MacMillan, from South Uist (the Milton), comes from a family with a strong Gaelic background, and has always heartily espoused Gaelic traditions; now working in the Celtic and Gaelic Department at Glasgow University, he also sings (stunningly well, as you will hear), and has won both the prestigious Royal National Mòd Gold and Traditional medals.

Air Fòrladh is the followup to Gillebrìde’s earlier CD, Thogainn Ort Fonn!, which came out in 2005, and it presents a highly persuasive, and excellently sung, collection of Gaelic songs with which he has a personal connection of some kind. This may be a song’s authorship (many were written by bards from his native Uist or nearby Benbecula), or the singer from whom it was learnt (again with origins in Uist or Benbecula); one song, the jaunty Fòrladh Alasdair Bhàin, even fulfils both criteria, having been learnt from the singing of Gillebrìde’s grandfather and composed by two men who had served in the First World War with him. On this new disc, Gillebrìde intelligently intersperses different types of song to provide maximum contrast and listenability, yet without compromising his ideals in any measure. Here we encounter examples of puirt a beul (one’s set to a pair of old pipe tunes) alongside a powerful song of the clearances (An Teid Thu Leam A Ribhinn Lurach), an acerbic Jacobite song (Tearlach Mac Sheumais), and an infectious travelling-song from the pen of Donald MacIntyre (The Paisley Bard), while a delicious little ditty sung for the Uist dance The First Of August (An Tàillear Mòr) craftily complements a satirical swipe at a bad dancer (Iain Mac ’ic Fhionghainn); there’s also a song described as a sea shanty, whose gentle lilt seems worlds away from that harsh discipline.

Whatever he sings though, Gillebrìde’s technique is both formidable and wholly natural, his diction is exemplary in its clarity, and the rounded, warm and rich timbre of his voice is both distinctive and welcoming. He’s further blessed, with sympathetic production by Deirdre Morrison, who has provided light-toned and sensitive accompaniments utilising in various combinations her own fiddle, guitar (Ewan MacPherson), bouzouki (Steve Byrne), piano (Mhàiri Hall), clarsach (Rachel Hair), pipes or whistle (Fred Morrison) or bodhrán (Martin O’Neill) – all familiar and highly respected names on the Scottish traditional music circuit. There’s also just one short track (Mo Nighean Donn ’s Toil Leam Thu) on which Gillebrìde sings unaccompanied. This disc furnishes further proof that songs sung in Gaelic need not be considered inaccessible (as singers like Julie Fowlis and Joy Dunlop have already shown us). And it comes with full texts and translations and explanatory notes.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.