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Private Label GA01CD 

Graeme Armstrong will be best known to most as the guitar player in Talisk since 2017. He was also co-founder of the Rachel Hamer Band. Hailing from the Scottish Borders, on his debut solo release we find him trying his hand at an album of songs – some traditional, some from the pen of well-known Scottish folksingers, and some of his own.

It’s quite a modern affair, with heavy use of synths, big basses, electric guitars and processed sounds in the arrangements for the most part, and continues the trend of doing trad / folk songs in very new settings (in some ways reminiscent of some of the soundscapes that Damien O’Kane is producing these days). Graeme’s voice is pleasant, and he sings in his own strong accent which adds to its likability.

He has picked good, fairly well-known songs. The traditional Isle Of France starts the album boldly in a synth and bass heavy version. Sandy Wright’s Beads And Feathers, Michael Marra’s The Beast and Karine Polwart’s Waterlily are given a gentler treatment, with the pleasing addition of Rachel Newton’s subtle and airy voice. Dick Gaughan’s version of Both Sides The Tweed is suitably anthemic, and the album ends well with a pounding, grungy Fine Flowers In The Valley. I was less convinced by My Son David, done as you’ve never heard it before. To me, it feels like the sentiment of the song gets lost in the arrangement, and it ends up being more about the music than the story. Or maybe it’s just a step too far away from the familiar for me.

Graeme’s own songs, on the themes of fatherhood, loss of a friend and broken relationships, fit the feel of the album well, though he uses his words sparingly, opting for lots of repetition of phrases and musical motifs (Sit Alone has one verse with only four lines; You Are Free doesn’t have many more).

This one grew on me. It’s very different, but if you’re interested to hear familiar songs in edgy, new settings, it’s worth a listen.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 144 of The Living Tradition magazine