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Puffin Recordings PUFFIN01CD

It's 13 years since the last album from this South Uist songstress. From Hebridean pin-up girl to world-class performer, Mairi MacInnes' career has spanned popular TV series, concert halls, and now iconic status as one of Gaelic song's greatest exponents. This CD covers the full range of Mairi's music, from the Runrig classics of her early rock chick days, through the traditional songs and mouth music of the Hebrides, to her own compositions in a more metaphysical mood.

Mairi is joined by Hamish Napier, James Duncan Mackenzie, James Mackintosh and Aaron Jones, as well as supporting singers Karen Matheson and Paul McCallum. Gaelic vocals are the be-all and end-all of Gràs, but the different arrangements provide plenty of variety, from sparse windswept backdrops to full band with extended instrumental breaks. Ms MacInnes is something of a specialist in peurt a'beul, rhythmic singing for dancing, and there's a fine example here, as well as work songs of various types, love songs in the Gaelic style and even the comic song Fair an t-Seasgain.

The opening and closing tracks are Mairi's own creations, a powerful evocation of the power of the storms which claim so many lives in the Western Isles, and a soothing hymn based on a 19th century collection of prayers and blessings. Both pieces use a huge dynamic range and I recommend you listen to this whole album at a pretty high volume level to catch all the nuances in the quieter sections. The singing is superb throughout, but I particularly enjoyed the expressiveness of Còmhrag which tells the story of the heroes of St Valery in World War 2, Meòrachadh where Mairi duets with a 1972 recording of her great uncle who fought in that battle, and a Runrig favourite Tillidh Mi. Play it loud, play it often, and hope it doesn't wear out before the next recording from Mairi MacInnes! 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 107 of The Living Tradition magazine.