George Papavgeris

Harem Scarem - The Birnam Witch Project
Vertical Records VERTCD068

This is a very accomplished second album from Harem Scarem fulfilling the considerable promise shown by the band’s debut album ‘Let Them Eat Fishcake’ in 2002. Much of that album’s variety, quirkiness and originality are retained here alongside a greater musical maturity. From Sarah McFadyen’s tune ‘Mind and Mind On’ to Inge Thomson’s song ‘Simmer Dim’ there is always something to grab the listener’s attention with its distinctiveness. The five-piece band consists of Ross Martin (guitars), Eilidh Shaw (fiddle), Sarah McFadyen (fiddle), Nuala Kennedy (wooden flutes and whistles) and Inge Thomson (accordion, silver flute and percussion) with all four women adding vocals too. They are among the best young Celtic musicians around as evidenced by their involvement in many other high profile projects.

Nuala’s two striking tunes – including the opener ‘The Dutch Jury’ – make a particular impact as does Inge’s beautiful song ‘Soar’ in which the band is heard at its very best. The band’s sense of improvisation and free spirit is summed up by one tune simply being titled ‘Unknown’. As well as the contemporary compositions by themselves and others, the band also pulls off both a traditional Scots song and a Gaelic song. A Gordon Gunn tune, ‘Billy’s New Box’ (previously heard on Session A9’s ‘What Road?’), receives an inspired fresh treatment here. Although more information on the sleeve notes would have been helpful (particularly about who is singing on particular tracks), on the evidence of this album expect to hear much more from this talented band.

Andy Jurgis

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This album was reviewed in Issue 64 of The Living Tradition magazine.