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HEATHER DOWNIE - Nae Sweets For Shy Bairns

HEATHER DOWNIE - Nae Sweets For Shy Bairns
H Boss Records HBRCD01

A former Young Traditional Musician finalist and a member of Glasgow band Top Floor Taivers, this young harpist has recorded several of her own compositions on her debut album, along with pieces by Tia Files and Corrina Hewat who both feature here; Tia as accompanist on most tracks, and Corrina as a guest vocalist for her own song, Stronger Than You Know. Heather also sings, providing vocals on two further tracks, but the majority of Nae Sweets For Shy Bairns is instrumental music. Very little of it is dance music though: Ms Downie has a taste for the unusual, odd rhythms and peculiar settings. Her opening For The Love Of Levers is a thoroughly modern creation, harp and percussion playing with keys and beats. Even the very traditional Neil Gow's Lament For His Second Wife becomes an abstraction in these hands, a thing of beauty still, but changing its tempo to suit Heather Downie's mood.

William The Conqueror sticks to a regular rhythm, a jaunty two-step perhaps, another Downie original morphing into Jay Ungar's popular Wizard's Walk. Aidan O'Rourke's Tune For Emily Ball is transferred brilliantly to the harp, and followed by another from Ms Files. Things finally settle down a bit with Donald MacLeod's pibroch, Fields Of Gold, rendered complete with canntearachd, and then the traditional Fingal's Cave. You could probably do a Canadian Barndance to Heather's Messed Up Marches, if you can summon up enough swagger, but you'd be as well to sit and listen as her harp gets seriously groovy. The final track on the intriguingly-titled Nae Sweets For Shy Bairns is a collage of recorded fragments, balmy night sounds and eerie vocals, over which Heather plays a gentle soothing air, almost a lullaby. Not the ending I expected, but there is almost nothing predictable about this CD: it will open your eyes and amaze your ears. A must-have for harp fans. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 122 of The Living Tradition magazine.