Sunday, 2 March 2014


CD Review

Fiona Hunter

Glasgow singer Fiona Hunter's debut solo album is likely to be the musical equivalent of the Scottish independence debate, not that it will turn people off and make them lift their eyes to the skies, but in that it may well polarise opinion.

Fiona Hunter
This is a very Scottish album and that is in no way a criticism. Hunter's native accent and veracity in interpreting traditional tunes adds a wonderful dimension which is part of the essence of folk music.
The lyrics, tune, traditions and emotions are part of her; she is rooted where these songs originate and were evolved and that is the perfect starting point for any folk singer.
Don't be misled by this being Hunter's debut solo album she has been around for some years and has already made a big impression on the Scottish traditional music scene.
Whether this will be received as well south of the border remains to be seen. The plain truth is it should be, it's a truly honest and unadorned collection of songs which are made better for being sung in the tongue and dialect for which they were written.
It doesn't matter that you may not catch some of the lyrics such as in the opener The Braes of Gleniffer which also introduces you to Hunter's talent for the cello. Even though this was done in a studio you do get the sense from Hunter's tones and emotion that she could just as easily be sitting outside a croft or crossing the wild moors of which it speaks.
Hunter's voice is gentle, expressive and in some instances even hypnotic but always clear and precise.
It wouldn't be right to have an album as organic as this and not include something from Rabbie Burns and the cheeky and jaunty The Weary Pund O' Tow is it. This has been covered by several artists and this is as good a version as any of them. Hunter has that right tone and style of voice to give it that rhythm which reminds of a child skipping along for no other reason than they are enjoying it.
There are some really good versions of The Cruel Mother, not least of which is Kim Lowings' but again Hunter's slower haunting version with her strong accent give it a whole new feel and adds suitable gravitas to what is a pretty grim folk tale.
Shift and Spin/The Shoemaker is about the boredom and isolation of working in a factory and while the lyrics convey this the tune picked out on strings by the album's producer Mike Vass and Matheu Watson give it more of a feeling of some of the lighter songs of Peter Paul and Mary, admittedly a blast from the past, but it does have that sound to it.
Mike Vass
The whole range of acoustic sounds on this album is delightful and they are often understated and yet this makes them so much more effective because when they come in under Hunter's voice they are more noticeable and are kind of like little treats along the way.
Young Emsley is a real gem of a story set to music. It's theme which recurs time and time again in traditional songs where young sailors loaded with their wages are lured into questionable ale houses and divested of their hard-earned by equally questionable ladies or landlords.
It's a simple, uncomplicated lament which allows Hunter's flowing voice free reign. Hunter has a definite connection to Bleacher Lass through her father and this slightly more upbeat song tells the story of reunited love set against the background of the wool processing industry. The guitar picking on this track is a pleasure to listen to and Watson and Vass certainly add colour with the instrumental interludes.
Ye Heilan Chiels is one of those history lesson songs which speaks of war and the loss of young men during its execution. There is that definite sense of lament within both the lyrics and the tune but there is nothing jingoistic about it, but you do get a sense, not just of the musicians, but the land itself mourning those who were involved.
You certainly get the whole gamut from Hunter as she moves into a song about love across the class boundaries and bigotry which is something many think is peculiar to the English and their snobbish class system. The faster paced song, The Laird O' Drum, has Hunter skipping along with a much lighter tune which belies the subject of which the song speaks.
The last but one track MacCrimmon's Lament really shows off Hunter's voice which has that sound you know is carrying on a tradition which goes back centuries. Written originally in Gaelic and alluding to the Jacobite rebellion Hunter sings a Scottish translation that has a simple a Capella start which then builds up in layers using the various instruments including a shruti box and harmonium and with Hunter's voice getting stronger and more emotional.
A shruti box
Hunter closes the album with a lovely, playful song again involving, women, alcohol and sailors, always a lethal combination. It's one of those songs which deserves to be sung with the all the nuances of the strong Scottish dialect and Hunter does it justice.
It's also one of those songs where you don't have to understand all the phrasing to enjoy it.
This is an album which deserves its place on the wider folk scene whether it will get it, is hard to say. It's a very Scottish album; it's an impressive Scottish album whether it's an exportable Scottish album remains to be seen, let's hope it is and perhaps one day soon Hunter will be joining the ranks of some of the folk world's gentry on the Transatlantic Sessions.

Fiona Hunter the album is released on March 3 through Rusty Squash Horn records.

Hunter has released an online bonus track, Thou Cauld Gloomy Feberwar, from Robert Tannahill.