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JIMMY HUTCHISON -"Corachree" The Living Tradition LTCD1002

(also reviews BOB BLAIR - "Reaching for the high, high lands" - LTCD1001)
Both albums in the series The Tradition Bearers : Scots Songs & Ballads

Welcome to this new series put out by Pete Heywood, featuring "honest straightforward recordings" of unaccompanied solo singing (with occasional appropriate instrumental backing), an art fiercely enjoyed by a handful (sometimes it seems) of enthusiasts but generally under-appreciated. As Bob Blair says: "folk song is an art form which can hold its own against any other" and the songs are as worthy of preservation as any endangered species." Bob Blair and Jimmy Hutchison are long - established, well -respected singers on the Scots traditional music scene (of which I am not part - Pete Heywood asked me for an outsider's opinion), fitting choices for the start of this series.

The cover picture of one of Jimmy's forebears led me to expect the croaky-but-characterful voice of an octogenarian so it was a surprise to encounter the light, pleasant, vigorous, muscular singing of a much younger man. Having just returned from a wonderful singing festival in Inishowen, Donegal (plenty of tradition bearers there!), it was good to hear Erin-Go-Bragh as the first track, a classic little song defending the Irish against prejudice. Jimmy excels in the pacing and story telling of a ballad such as 'Matty Groves' or 'Lord Randal' where his unhistrionic, unhurried strong narrative drive puts the story to the fore. Much of the material is familiar: on 'The Overgate' and 'The Beggarman' I could have done with a bit more gusto such as one hears on recordings of the older singers like Belle Stewart, Jock Duncan or Davie Stewart; but with 'I'll Lay Ye Doon Love' (with some extra verses put together by Jimmy) it's good to hear a more restrained, sensitive rendition of a song that's too often belted out raucously.

I particularly enjoyed 'Phiege a Grath' (Jimmy's voice slips smoothly round the Scots Gaelic decorations) and the title track Corachree. Sung with both passion and restraint this unusual love song refers to (I think) the repressive power of the Kirk: "The session clerk will hear of this thing ye've done to me." (The series would be enhanced if the song words were printed, along with more detailed language notes and historical references.)

There's a greater intensity of mood on Bob Blair's recording, especially on 'Cairn o' Mount', a fine set of words on the broken token theme where love is tested and declared. Bob's quietly passionate style draws you in to the experience of the song. On 'Bonny Peggy' there are interesting stylistic features in the singing - long drawn out notes sliding from one to another and hummed decorations around the consonants, which again enhance the telling of this story where love defeats parental opposition. In fact love is the theme of the recording - as stated in the first track 'Kissin's Nae Sin'. Bob has put together an interesting and diverse collection of songs.

As well as the stories of love lost and won - with a particular stress on remaining true to one's class (Cairn o' Mount, Collier Laddie) - there is fascinating poetic imagery of sex and desire in the little known 'O Gin My Love Were a Pickle o' Wheat' and 'Ye Hae Lien Wrang.' ("You've let the pony o'er the dyke and he's been in the corn, lassie"). Romanticism as in the Romantic poets is exemplified in the wonderful 'The Bonnie Lassie o' the Mornin' (by Jack Foley) whence the title "Reachin' for the high, high lands" is quoted : love develops against a vividly described background of rock and stream and scree. The companionship of walking and climbing together develops into the joy of an embrace and ends in a parting glass. A moving song, beautifully sung.

No doubt there will be much discussion as to the term "tradition bearers". How does this generation - or a younger one - relate to or compare with the greats of the past? How should one differentiate them from, for example Sheila Stewart, who is undisputedly in the direct line of the tradition?

I'll settle for the enjoyment of some fine, honest, passionate singing of traditional songs as we find on these two releases in a series which I hope will continue to present many more fine singers.

Peta Webb

To Hear Some Sample Tracks Click Here (Needs Real Player)

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This album was reviewed in Issue 38 of The Living Tradition magazine.