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JMAIRI CAMPBELL - Mairi Campbell
Greengold Music  GGM1

Singer and fiddle player Mairi’s been making enchanting and sublime music as one half of the duo The Cast for close on 20 years, their 2007 CD Greengold especially captivating as I recall, and yet, while this latest, eponymous CD constitutes her debut solo record, it also marks an important stage in (the fruition of) her evolving long-term songwriting partnership with her Cast partner David Francis.

Although Mairi’s singing is every bit as engaging as you’d expect, and David’s skill in lyric-writing is unquestioned, it’s more the general feel of her songs, and sometimes the basic musical idiom, that may come more as a surprise to those who are accustomed to hearing her pure and limpid takes on traditional material. Opening with the tenderly wistful Home Is Not What I Left Behind, on which there is a beautiful classical-style backing from strings, piano and soft brush-strokes, the pace then quickens for a poised canter across Portobello Sands that gives rise to a mother’s thoughts as she awaits the return of her son from Iraq (the sands of Basra). Don’t Ever Give Up voices essential support given from a partner to her lover, while on She Stitched Upon My Heart, couched in the style of an old ballad, Mairi (taking on the role of lyricist for this one track) uses the activity of sewing as a metaphor for her mother’s love and support. Scent In The Air delicately evokes the numb incomprehension and fragile state of mind that accompanies an uncertain stage in a relationship, and Remember My Love gives encouragement to women suffering from post-natal depression, while Recession Song’s bluesy swagger breezily posits love as a cure-all for worrying about the state of the economy (ha!).
Musical arrangements are carefully coordinated and understated, with a keen sense of tonal shading and dynamic balance, and involving Tia Files (guitar and bass), Mhairi Hall (piano and keyboard), Donald Hay (drums) and Ada Grace Francis (clarsach) as well as (naturally) Mairi herself playing violin and viola. It makes for an appealing, if mildly underwhelming aural tapestry that suits David’s deft word-painting. The minor drawback with this soft-focus approach is that occasionally the melodic content is a touch insubstantial – for instance, the three songs in the middle of the CD seem somehow lightweight and uninvolving by comparison… But at its most persuasive this disc repays close listening and repeated plays.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.