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Cora-Linn Records ODR003

Allan’s long CV stretches from the late 60s, first being a regular face at Ayr and then Edinburgh folk clubs (at the latter forming the band Wee Willum with future members of Jock Tamson’s Bairns), then developing a keen awareness of the links between the Scottish and Irish traditions. He’d already started writing, and shortly after the time of his first album (North Of The Border, 1989) other artists, among them the bands Ravenscroft and Craobh Rua, were covering his songs. Two more albums followed (Voicecall and Hey You, in 1999 and 2004 respectively), and although much of the interim time has thence been spent in happy collaboration with other musicians, Allan’s still well able to retain and develop his own distinctive writing and performing personality, as album number four, On The Muse, demonstrates.

It’s a straight-down-the-line, honest collection of self-penned material – that is, all but two of the 15 tracks (those being better-than-decent accounts of trad Scots songs The Fair Floo’er O’ Northumberland and The Back O’ Bennachie). The tracklist more or less alternates the lighter, tongue-in-cheek and/or genially humorous pieces with what might be termed old-fashioned protest songs (that’s not a criticism). The latter tend to sport fuller musical arrangements, involving bass and keyboards (Billy McMillan), drums (Andy Munro) and fiddle (Mike Slessor), whereas the former tend to be sparsely scored for just Allan, his guitar, bouzouki, harmonica or banjo – and enabling maximum concentration on the lyrics.

My favourite track’s probably Tapselteerie O, a delightfully puckish commentary that forms a kind of sly celebration of Burns’ 250th birthday, rather like a cross between Robbie and Robin Williamson; but the simple cheery humour of Thank You Mr Postman and Seagulls O’ Newhaven is irresistible too, and very catchy. As is Hamish Mhor’s Session, a fine tribute to larger-than-life session host “Big Jim” Knight. Whereas other songs, like Scientific Man, Never Ever Seen (concerning the plight of the homeless) and Robbers And Thieves (a Dylanesque slice of global protest) are altogether more questioning, and certainly deserve your close attention. As do the pair of songs in affectionate celebration of sunny Leith.

Yes, Allan’s given us a thoroughly likeable collection here; so look out for some tour dates during the course of the next few months, on which Allan will be joined by the aforementioned Mike, Billy and Tom Napper, and sometimes Andy too.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 96 of The Living Tradition magazine.