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Rusty Squash Horn Records RSH004CD

Fiona Hunter has been Malinky’s highly regarded lead singer for 10 years since taking over from Karine Polwart. When a solo album is long in coming, the wait is often worthwhile because each song means the world to the singer. So it is with this self-titled debut. Fiona’s blend of fluid vocal technique and passion, her experience in song arrangement and interpretation and her love of Scotland’s kist o’ riches come together to glorious effect.

Many gut-wrenching versions of The Cruel Mother have been recorded and Fiona gives us another, despite a slightly distracting arrangement. A chilling detail is that the mother strangles her babies with a ribbon from her hair, instead of the usual stabbing by penknife. Other songs of high emotion are Andy Hunter’s anti-war song Ye Heilan Chiefs (with a reference to The Battle of Flodden, the 500th anniversary of which has just passed) and MacCrimmon’s Lament accompanied by the drone of the shruti box.

But the overall mood is not sombre. Fiona is a Glasgow lass and gives her debut a strong Glasgow / Paisley stamp. Robert Tannahill’s Braes O’ Glennifer opens the album on a warm lyrical note. Jock Hawk’s Adventures In Glasgow ends it with bothy ballad humour, with help from Glasgow’s female The Hidden Lane Choir. In between there are two trade songs – The Bleacher Lass O’ Kelvinhaugh and Ewan McVicar’s Shift And Spin.

Mike Vass, Fiona’s band member in Malinky, plays a blinder on this album. He has produced it beautifully, shares arrangement credits and throws in a brace of tunes. Better known as a fiddle player, his tenor guitar is strong in the musical mix along with Fiona’s sensitive cello playing. Euan Burton on double bass and Matheu Watson on acoustic guitar are other regulars.

This album is as Scottish as the Saltire. Fiona sings naturally in braid Scots and demands close attention particularly from non-Scottish ears. Thankfully the lyrics will be available on her website. She shows high respect for previous generations of Scottish singers, both in her style and in the references in her notes to Lizzie Higgins, Ray Fisher, Tony Cuffe, Andy Hunter and Alison McMorland (the last two being her tutors at RSAMD).

Listening to this was a midwinter delight as I hunkered down in the storms. 2014 must bring better weather but may not bring a better Scottish traditional album.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.