Wednesday, 18 January 2017


CD Review

Songs of Robert Burns

The influence of Robert Burns on folk culture, especially music, both in Scotland and the wider world cannot be overstated. With this album Robyn Stapleton's beautiful voice, considerable musical talent and obvious production abilities have created a fitting tribute to the great man.

Robyn Stapleton
It should be mentioned also that she has surrounded herself with some of the most respected musicians for an album which is Scotland through and through.
Stapleton learned Coming Through The Rye as a young girl and it has been covered by others but her light and dancing style of singing, and definite Scottish accent give it a real depth and fill it with the character of Burns.
This gives way to the much more ponderous Westlin' Winds. In some ways it's a real feast for musicians to have the wonderful words of Burns to hand and Stapleton's respect for the material comes through on every track. Stapleton gives this track a real history in her style of singing, keeping a contemporary feel while at the same time bringing the lineage of the words almost as a spiritual offering.
She captures the romantic side of Burns with AE Fond Kiss, a song inspired by the solitary meeting of lips between Burns and Nancy Maclehose. The peaceful intro of the lone piano brings in the definite Gaelic tone of Stapleton's gorgeously evocative singing. It is a wonderfully emotive and thoughtful song and once again she does it justice.
What follows is a medley of tunes I'm Oer Young/Marion Dewar's Jig/Hey Ca' Thro'/Brose & Butter. Stapleton's voice comes in clear and dancing over the top of light piano music and it's just such a pleasant sound, you may not understand all the broad accented words but that doesn't detract from the lovely song which she produces.
Robert Burns
This gives away to the fiddle creating the jaunty dancing sound before Stapleton's voice comes dancing back like a hare, full of the juices of Spring, leaping through the highlands.
In complete contrast Stapleton's haunting voice brings in The Slave's Lament. It comes gracefully sliding over the top of Alistair Paterson's harmonium playing. On this occasion Stapleton's style does seem to have a hint of Yiddish about it which is reinforced by the superb violin accompaniment.
In yet another change of tack, Ca The Yowes gives Stapleton a chance to show the depth of character and gentleness her voice can exercise.
The soft tune allows the Scottish songstress to stretch her vocal range without a hint of effort. Stapleton stays in the high range for Tae The Weavers, a cautionary tale of getting involved with those who will break your heart. The light tune belies the slightly more serious subject matter of the tale which is warning the local lasses to give the weavers a wide berth.
The skill of Burns is seen in just the two verses of John Anderson, My Jo which portrays a lifetime of love. Sung like a lament, Stapleton once again shows her vocal versatility with her powerful a Capella version.
This gives way to perhaps one of Burns' most famous offerings My Love Is Like A Red, Red, Rose. Stapleton's version of the ballad, sung over the gentle piano accompaniment, is full of emotion as she sings it to the tune of Low Down In The Broom.
The church hymn like singing of Parcel O' Rogues tells the tale of those who made a killing out of the Act of Union of the 18th century. Stapleton's singing is again precise and invests the track with a deep level of emotion with the song summed up in the last two lines "We were bought and sold for English gold, Sic a parcel o' rogues in a nation."
It doesn't get much closer to Burns than the autobiographical poem There Was A Lad.
Stapleton tones down her voice to  almost a gentle whisper and goes for an extremely traditional ballad style as she puts the ode to the tune of Dainty Davie. It seems rather appropriate that the last song on the album should be the words which have been adopted almost worldwide, those of Auld Lang Syne.
the tribute album
The song seems to have become the universal anthem for seeing in the New Year and is almost certainly Burns' most famous composition. Stapleton strips it right back and keeps it simple, she also sings it to its original tune.
It may seem a little unfamiliar but somehow it does give it a new life and makes you listen to the words more intently.
Stapleton also brings a gentleness to it rather than the loud, usually booze fuelled, party version we are used to which in a strange way earths it back into its Scottish roots, almost as if it has been reclaimed for Burns himself.
The singer has created an album which is as Scottish as the tartan, the haggis, whisky and Dundee granite.
There is not a bagpipe to be heard and there is no jingoism although Stapleton has conveyed a deep sense of pride and respect for one of the truly great literary figures of all time. If someone else wanted to put together an album which paid tribute to one of Scotland's finest sons then they will have their work cut out to come up with one better than this.

Songs of Robert Burns is released January 20 on the Laverock Label and can be bought from the artist's website and from the usual download sites.