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RACHEL WALKER Braighe Loch Iall Skipinnish Records SKIP03

Rachel Walker's 'Braighe Loch Iall' is an exquisite, moving collection of much-loved Gaelic songs by a musician of outstanding vocal beauty - a powerful reminder that the human voice is the most expressive instrument after all - Walker's clarity of tone and elegant vocal nuance are a joy to listen to. Kenna Campbell taught and mentored Rachel through her RSAMD studies, and writes: "Her performance became the yardstick against which I measured later students. To date she is unsurpassed".

This is Walker's first solo album (following earlier recordings with Dochas/Skipinnish), and it received a quietish, understated launch in Inverness this summer. Runrig's Malcolm Jones provides the steadiest of hands as producer - the instrumentation on each song is beautifully and subtly arranged to maximise the impact of Walker's magnificent voice, which is allowed to flourish, high and pure, throughout. The sublime title track sees Allan Henderson leading on piano (he plays with a lovely touch!), whilst on 'Smeorach Clann Domnaill' Jones leads on acoustic guitar. Jones also plays electric guitars (with restrained elegance!), accordion, basses, keyboards and percussion - his role is fundamental to this album's beauty. The laments are performed unaccompanied and are thereby all the more moving. Other contributing musicians are Donald Black (mouth organ), Iain MacFarlane (fiddle), and Andrew Stevenson (small pipes/whistle/flute) - their impact on the album is memorable. The backing vocalists are another significant strength - Abigail Walker, Julie Fowlis, Mary Ann Kennedy, Angus MacPhail and James Graham provide rousing, robust vocals, especially on the 'waulking/rowing songs' and 'puirt a beul'. I could listen to this album all day.

This recording serves to convince me that the song tradition of Scotland's Highlands & Islands not only transcends language barriers, but also remains Britain's most hidden cultural treasure. This has quickly become my personal favourite album of the year.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 60 of The Living Tradition magazine.