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Vertical Records VERTCD108

Shortly after releasing his debut solo album, Taladh Nan Cuantan in 2005, Gaelic singer (and childhood Mòd medallist) and piper Calum Alex spent six years as vocalist with award-winning band Dàimh. He now builds on both contrasting experiences and brings together his various accomplishments with Till (Gaelic for “return”) which, while reaffirming his connection with his roots on the Isle Of Lewis, nevertheless embraces the present in remaining relevant to his culture’s contemporary renaissance.

The songs he’s chosen to sing on this new album were gathered on frequent return visits to his home, and concern his childhood, his family’s history and its strong sense of place and community. Many of these songs were sourced from tapes made of his family members or forebears. Calum Alex sings them with evident affection, entirely befitting their subject matter, and his loving, assured phrasing and ornamentation is sensitively managed.

The non-Gaelic-speaking listener will learn much from Calum Alex’s succinct yet informative sleeve notes, and there are many discoveries to be made here, not least the yearning emigration song Fàgail Shiadair and the comparatively modern composition Thug Iad A Thung Thu (blessed with an imaginative string arrangement). The more-often-heard William Ross song Fil O Ro is also delightfully done, while the combination of puirt and pipe tunes is exhilarating – as is the disc’s instrumental set (a pair of self-penned jigs played on the small pipes). The complementary spacious, smooth, laid-back and thoroughly contemporary musical settings come courtesy of producer Donald Shaw (who plays piano throughout), and involve the talents of Greg Lawson, Ross Martin, James MacKenzie, James MacKintosh, Innes White, Manus Lunny and Robert Irvine, with vocal contributions from Julie Fowlis and James Graham.

Till is an attractive disc containing much eloquent and gently commanding singing, polished yet soulful, with instrumental accompaniment of matching artistry.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.