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Ṛs Dearg Records ROSCD101 

Gaol translates as Love, and this CD from Gaelic singer, songwriter and teacher, Rachel Walker, is a collection of love songs, mostly from her own pen, that adhere to the theme in its widest sense, encompassing love of people, of place, of language, and embracing both requited and unrequited romantic love. It includes three that have been written in collaboration with others (two with Marcas Mac an Tuairneir and one with Flora MacPhail), three written in English, three traditional songs (one with a new melody by Rachel) and a tune.

With several musicians recording across various locations during lockdown, the whole was expertly pulled together by Jamie Smith in his studio in Appin, Argyle. He creates quite a big, lush sound, fairly heavily orchestrated at times, and yet Rachel’s delicate voice and beautiful piano manage to remain central to the sound throughout.

We start with the modern sounding Là Luain, where Rachel shares the vocals with James Graham, and her piano is joined by guitars, strings and drums in a sensitive yet quite full-on arrangement. Next, a newly-written waulking song, more traditional in sound, utilises Aaron Jones’ cittern to good effect. Later, we come to the first of the traditional songs, An t-Iarla Diùrach, a heart-breaking tale of deception, featuring just Rachel’s voice and piano.

The tempos and moods change from the contemporary, mildly poppy arrangement of I Never Knew, to the ethereal, churchy sound of A Phàidirinn, A Dhùisg Mo Dheòir (complete with ‘choir’), and the dramatic arrangement of the story of the sacking of Gylen Castle in 1647, where James Graham takes the lead, aided by Jarlath Henderson’s emotive Uilleann pipes and a host of others. Often the vocals are layered to create effect, giving the album quite a different, contemporary sound (in a similar way to how Co. Kerry’s Pauline Scanlon creates a shimmery atmosphere in her recorded material, for example). Jamie Smith also contributes “additional orchestration” which accentuates this feel.

On the whole, a warm and mostly gentle Gaelic album, where Rachel is exploring a more contemporary approach alongside the traditional style for which she has been known. A lovely listen.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 138 of The Living Tradition magazine