Link to Living Tradition Homepage






Shadowside Records SHADOW03 

Singer and harpist Rachel is noted both for her membership of bands (The Shee, The Furrow Collective and Boreas) and for three intriguing, innovative solo records. Now, West – titled after Rachel’s beloved Wester Ross and her great-grandfather’s nickname – is a deliberately stripped-down affair. Just Rachel, her voice and harps, recorded at her late grandparents’ croft in Achnahaird where her personal music-making responds directly to her surroundings. It’s spellbinding, and the listener is captivated, involved from the first note to the last, while the playing and singing is invariably of the beautifully understated kind.

West is a sensitively sequenced selection of songs mostly (but not exclusively) traditional in origin, set into relief by harp instrumentals (I’d hesitate to underplay them by terming them interludes): pieces linked by the Wester Ross landscape which, while not exactly programmatic, do resemble miniature tone-poems. These are glistening jewels, and can be likened to the tiny lochans that dot the countryside in those parts, especially the region around the spectacularly distinctive, weirdly unique peaks of Suilven, Stac Pollaidh, Ben More Coigach and Bein An Eoin. The longest of these pieces, Skye Air, is the exception in that it comes from a 1784 collection (the remainder are Rachel’s own compositions).

Rachel’s forthright, deft and imaginative harpistry perfectly complements her delicately expressive singing, whether on ballads or Gaelic song (from the singing of Willie Mathieson, Jenna Cumming or Flora McNeil). Following which, Rachel’s perceptive, ingeniously fresh take on Dolly Parton’s Jolene forms a brilliant postlude. West is a masterpiece of gently panoramic intimacy.

David Kidman

Secure On-line mailorder service
Many CDs we review are available from The Listening Post.
Check to see if this CD is available.

The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 126 of The Living Tradition magazine.