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Tarneybackle Music TBMCD6

This Scots trio are based in Blackford in Perthshire, where they are quite heavily in demand. The group consists of multi-instrumentalist John Davidson, percussionist (and de-facto sound engineer!) Lorna Davidson and guitar/bouzouki exponent Sandy Marshall. All three are very handy vocalists.

This is their sixth album, and - d’oh! – this dunce of a reviewer has never heard the previous five.

But hey, that is good is it not? That I am not a paid-up-member of their fan club, makes me harder to convince, so any praise coming from me is doubly earned.

And I started off a little underwhelmed. Now look, I yield to no man in my admiration for Dougie MacLean, but I wouldn’t put his Bruce Chatwinesque Singing Land in his top 20. It took track 3, for the album to catch fire, with a delicious version of the negro spiritual, Jacob’s Ladder. Super harmonies and really infectious.

When I review CDs, I often wonder how much thought goes into the batting order of the team of songs an artiste has decided to hit me with. Sometimes, I think scant regard is given to it. Not that this is necessarily the case here.

Maybe – to extend the cricketing analogy – Tarneybackle thought of Singing Land as an unflashy opener who would see off the new ball, if not exactly thrill the spectators. But me? Well give me the pinch hitter every time! Let’s start with the dynamite...and Jacob’s Ladder is just that.

Yes there are other fine numbers like Si Kahn’s ubiquitous What You Do With What You’ve Got, the traditional Johnnie Lad and Plooman Laddies, and The Sleeping Tune by the late Gordon Duncan of Pitlochry. This last-mentioned, is a sweet instrumental from the pen of a great piper whose early death ten years ago left the whole of the Scottish piping world feeling bereft. And a very capable job they do on all of them.

The only track that matches the opener for pure quality is their penultimate choice of a Spanish Civil War trilogy. To nit pick, I would have ended the CD with it, but Johnnie Lad is infectious enough and leaves you wanting more...which is what every CD should ideally do.

As for that Spanish Civil War trilogy: MacColl’s Jamie Foyers, is delivered with the total sincerity and respect it deserves. Then comes the best song to be penned by the Fifteenth International Brigade, Jarama Valley: thrilling harmonies from the group here. And then we have that Italian communist song which was sung in Spain during the hostilities, Bandiera Rossa. I don’t quite buy their liner notes on this trilogy: they are over simplistic in claiming that the International Brigade “fought for freedom side by side with the people of Spain”.

If only the Spanish Civil War was that simple. A lot of brave Nationalists also fought for what they perceived as freedom. And the fact remains that a lot of Republican fighters would have happily allowed Spain to be run by the monster Joseph Stalin. Not for nothing, when news of Stalin’s mass genocide broke after his death did people dispense with the word “comunismo” and replace it with “socialismo”. It is Lord (Neil) Kinnock’s favourite song, for heaven’s sake, and it’s his party piece...him of course favouring the watered down “socialismo” lyric.

How symbolic, eh? And even though Neil has a decent voice, he cannot do justice to it like Tarneybackle do here. I played it as I was driving and found myself soon challenging speed limits! No praise can be higher for a rousing (near) end to an album.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 109 of The Living Tradition magazine.