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Gracie Records GRACIECD010

In the past, Annie’s name has tended to be most associated with Iron Horse, the band she’d fronted for over ten years during the 1990s as vocalist and pipes/whistles supremo. Around the same time as Iron Horse brought out their 2004 reunion album The Wind Shall Blow For Ever More, Annie released a solo record on Greentrax, Take Me Out Drinking Tonight, which proved a most charming prospect; although it was at times a touch idiosyncratic in its often quite daringly jazzy treatments of some well-loved traditional material, Annie’s choice of contemporary covers was both thoughtful and well-managed.

Annie’s follow-up album has been a long time in coming, but it’s indicative that The Bell is if anything even more varied musically, yet with the jazzy element altogether less pronounced. For this time round, only two tracks display that insouciant swing: a quirkily scored cover of Kirsty McGee’s Sandman and the disc’s cheery closing exhortation Don’t Go – and interestingly these also seem the least satisfying or memorable cuts, at least by direct comparison with the remainder, although their place in the scheme of things is clear enough. The CD is titled after the compelling peace chanson which Annie co-wrote with American singer-songwriter Aimee Bobruk at the celebrated Burnsong Songhouse last year: coming third in the album’s running order, it sports a delicate yet gently incandescent string arrangement featuring Jonny Hardie. Other musicians helping Annie out during the course of the album comprise Aaron Jones and Aly Macrae (both of whom had also appeared on Take Me Out Drinking Tonight), with special guests Kevin McGuire (double bass) and Nigel Hitchcock (alto sax).

The opening track sets out Annie’s personal stall of self-fulfilment with a lovely rendition of Sandy Denny’s Solo, with an arrangement replete with rippling guitars and fulsome vocal harmonies. Another rather special moment comes with Aly’s contemporary “muckle sang” High The Laverock Sings. Elsewhere, Annie turns in a feisty and confident version of One Morning In May, managing to showcase her skill on the small pipes both here and on a nifty little set of tunes that’s strategically placed at the midway point of the disc. However, it’s Annie’s own composition Little Bird, a moving message of love, loss and loyalty written for her daughter Kirsty, which arguably provides the disc’s emotional core, lovingly sung and intimately recorded here with just Aly’s piano for company. It then proves an inspired move for Annie to follow Little Bird with an uplifting fiddle-and-banjo-accompanied performance of Harvey Reid’s Show Me The Road. A tender rendition of The Exile’s Song (by early 19th century writer Robert Gilfillan) also suits Annie’s gently emotive delivery well.

In all honesty I think The Bell is on balance an even finer collection than Annie’s earlier CD, partly due to a more satisfying choice of material and Annie’s expert accommodation of different styles and modes of expression, and partly due to the even warmer sense of companionship which Annie and her musical friends communicate to the listener. Thanks for sharing your music, Annie.

David Kidman

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