If there is one thing that I hate it is a Celtic musician, of any genre, who tries to peddle so called Scottish songs so saccharine they make your teeth hurt, under some cynical guise of authenticity. It is kind of like trying to pass off Glayva as a real whisky, or insisting that the stories told to tourists that paint Bonnie Prince Charlie as a cool guy are historically true - people who know their whisky or their history know better.
You hear a lot of it in America, songs selected and sung in such a matter as to induce diabetes to those who can’t quite make it out the door in time. When this is propagated by a native of Scotland, or Ireland then there is no punishment great enough. However, on the flip side, when the challenge of taking old, often badly treated songs, breathing new life and allowing them their dignity is overcome… then it is a reminder that these songs can often stand the test of time; sometimes it’s not the song’s fault but the singer’s; and what some singers have broken, others can mend.
Ed Miller is a native of Scotland and it shows in his new CD – Come Awa’ Wi’ Me – in the selection of his songs. With a degree in Folklore, and his own radio show on KUT- FM called ‘Across the Water’ you would expect his CDs to show a little more depth than might be necessary for some of the American market – and you would be right, they do. There are no original songs on this CD, but rather a wander through old classics that might go wrong in the hands of someone less interested in the message of the music.
His latest CD spans a lot of eras, from Ewan McColl’s The Thirty Foot Trailer to Kate Rusby’s Walk The Road; Woody Guthrie beautiful Gonna Get Through This World to the stoic sorrow of Ralph McTell’s The Streets Of London. Brian McNeill guest stars on fiddle and accordion to good effect, and with some rather nifty percussion courtesy of Michelle Hedden and touch of the more exotic of instrumentation provided by Rich Brotherton on cittern and mandola, the CD has colour as well as simplicity.
The songs on Come Awa’ Wi’ Me encompass the decline of Scots as a language, the conditions of ploughmen in northeast Scotland, the lure of the road, and fate of dustbowl refugees - they get around. There is even a little bit of sneaky seduction, but that is only to be expected of the Childe ballads.
I remember hearing many of these songs on the radio when I was much younger, and loving them. I also remember listening to some musicians playing them at various venues, and being one of the people who luckily managed to make it out the door just in time. It can be a fine line when the old meets the new, and Ed Miller walks that line with grace and honesty. He might not be reinventing the wheel, but then he is not trying to – his wheel works just fine.