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Gress Recordings  GRESS001

Singer and songwriter Gillie Mackenzie has spent most of her life performing and teaching Gaelic songs, being particularly influenced by those of the people of Lewis in the Western Isles, where she grew up. In partnership with two of her sisters (Eilidh and Fiona) as the band Mackenzie, Gillie has already released two albums of vocal harmony-heaven on the Macmeanmna label, also contributing a track to Greentrax’s Gaelic Women anthology, but Griais (named after her native village) is her first solo record.

I find it a delightfully invigorating experience, with Gillie’s accomplished and attractive singing voice sensibly supported by gentle but effective and accessible small-scale instrumental settings, courtesy of producer Ewan MacPherson (Fribo, Leslie & Miller, Cula) and also involving the talents of Alasdair White (fiddle), James Mackintosh (percussion), Mhairi Hall (piano) and Ailig Hunter (bass). Here, Gillie moves easily between traditional and self-penned Gaelic (with a smattering of English) songs inspired by her life in Lewis and the Lothians, and without knowledge of the language (or sight of the booklet’s translations) it can be hard to spot the difference, so keen is her grasp of the idiom of traditional Gaelic song.

Standout tracks include Gillie’s affectionate portrait of the beautiful beach at Tràigh Ghriais (a few miles north-east of Stornoway), the heartbreaking Laighinn Leat (which features within its luscious scoring a guest viola contribution from Amy Geddes), the lilting, eerily evocative closer Kitty Alice (namechecking Gillie’s dad’s mother), and the tremulous emotional waltzery of Peacocks And Pearls. Gillie’s delicate treatment of the late Iain MacArtair’s moving dedication to his wife Do M’ Cheile is absolutely sublime, while in contrast she also delivers deftly-rendered variants on popular waulking songs, and the Broyges Tantz medley takes a raw klezmer melody as a springboard for a pair of courtship songs. Lovingly packaged too, this is a record that deserves widest coverage.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.