Friday, 1 May 2015

RURA

CD Review

Despite The Dark

Scottish five-piece band Rura certainly don't believe on skimping when it comes to an opening track at more than seven minutes the spooky Dark Reel is the longest on the album.

Rura from left David Foley, Adam Brown, Adam Holmes,
Steven Blake and Jack Smedley
The eerie windswept effect gives way to the reassuringly Scottish sound of Steven Blake on the pipes.
The track is in two parts with the slow wailing of the pipes building up to the faster second part where the sound is filled out by the fiddle and guitar before the pipes recede once again into the darkness.
This gives way to Weary Days which has a slightly less eerie, more ethereal opening which almost have a south seas sound to it as the echoing and slightly gravelly voice of Adam Holmes, who also plays with The Embers, brings in the lyrics from the distance gradually working his sound nearer to the listener.
It's a gentle ballad which gives a good shout to Holmes' distinctive voice and, in between the flute and fiddle add a lovely lilting interlude with the percussion creating the sound of what could be a train travelling in the distance. It all combines to make a very restful and thoughtful song.
This is quickly contrasted by the sound again of the pipes which come hopping in for The Smasher which includes The Boys From Ballydowse.
Both contain what Rura are obviously building up as a signature sound by driving the drones at a quick but fluid pace.
The jig-style music is driven along by the guitar acting almost as the percussion section. And they do like these fade ins and outs under the main strain of the music.
Cauld Wind Blast is a poem by who else but Robbie Burns.
Robert Burns
The whole band have had a hand in arranging this song and Holmes' lamenting tones seems perfect over the top of the lone guitar giving a gentle rhythm through its chords.
It's a simple work with Burns' poem set to music what's not to like, and the band have caught the essence perfectly, you can almost taste the heather on the wind.
Another contrasting pace comes in with The Glorious 45 and Opheillia, which are a nod to those who voted for Scottish independence and to the first daughter of one of the engineers on the album respectively.
Once again Blake gets a chance to show his mastery of the pipes which could really have carried the tune without any accompaniment but the under-instruments never intrude and if you are a fan of the bagpipes then this is your Christmas.
More than on any other track so far you can hear the strong Scottish accent of Holmes with Between The Pines.
This sounds almost like a battle cry with Holmes adopting a more aggressive style of singing on this one and the thumping beat of the rhythm again provided by hammering the guitar.
There is definitely an ominous ring to Holmes' singing on this track and it's one you can never really settle into, you are almost keeping one eye over your shoulder watching for the claymore swinging hordes coming from between the pines.
It does get your toe tapping though almost as a distraction.
What could be a musical googly Drone Song is a sleepy, slightly lazy sounding ballad that has a strangely soporific affect akin to a lullaby but it does show a deeper almost soulful side to Holmes which he has so far kept hidden. However, the doleful sound he produces with his voice works so well on this ballad it could almost be used as anti-stress therapy. The track has some beautiful almost Oriental sounding accents from the fiddle of Jack Smedley.
The Lowground keeps the gentle theme, with again Smedley showing his skill on the fiddle. It is a beautifully crafted and gentle instrumental which also gives David Foley the co-composer a chance to let his flute playing dance into the picture. Rura do put together wonderful instrumentals like the strands being constructed by master weavers.
The new album Despite The Dark
Foley once again comes to the fore for the final track The Lasher, which is an Irish tune, building it up gradually to a pace where the pipes take over and get it galloping.
This takes the album out as it started, again at more than seven minutes long.
There is plenty of time for the band to cram everything in and build up the instrumental finale, altering the pace and level at which each instrument comes in and out to keep the listener on their toes.
Bagpipes can be an extremely polarising instrument, it some ways they are the Bovril of the music world but if you wanted to get someone with droneaphobia (that's a made up word) on board then a good start would be Rura. They have cleverly used the bagpipes very prominently in their music but without over egging the pudding. There will always be comparisons with bands such as Runrig and Capercaillie but Rura have achieved what they set out to do and created a distinct sound which clearly identifies them.

Despite The Dark is out now.