Sunday 7 June 2015


CD Review

Fickle Fortune

The first thing which strikes you from the opening track of Robyn Stapleton's debut album is how exquisitely pure her voice is. 

Robyn Stapleton
Kicking off with a wonderfully traditional murder ballad Two Sisters, which has been covered many times, Stapleton's voice clearly gives it a spring clean bringing a freshness to it.
The Scottish singer's voice is as crystal as a highland stream and she seems to have an unlimited range, hitting the sort of notes which would bounce off a passing aeroplane with ease.
There is a lovely jumping beat to the song provided by the accordion of Stephen Heffernan.
Stapleton executes a lovely languid style to her singing with the Irish song Bruach Na Carraige Baine, which means The Edge of the White Rock, and is a song of doomed love.
Her voice does have the depth of someone such as Kathryn Roberts and the lilt of Mary Black. As the slow ballad relates the narrative you are given the picture of a group listening to the tale outside a croft on a warm evening.
The Shuttle Rins is a tune from the 19th century and tells of social change. Stapleton's light voice, during the refrain, mirrors the forward and backwards movement of the loom's shuttle. Stapleton, from Stranraer, keeps her voice undulating with a beautiful lilt that mirrors both her Scottish and Irish sides. Her voice is accented very gently by the strumming of the guitar and a hint of accordion in the background.
Blue Eyed Nancy starts very much like The Parting Glass and this time Stapleton adds a tremble to her voice for this soft and languorous ballad which has the haunting insert of the piano to give it even more atmosphere.
The Celtic songstress shows the depth of strength and emotion she can convey through her voice which is the only sound on McCrimmon's Lament. Here Stapleton manages to sound like a cross between two great female singers Joan Baez and Sandy Denny. She gives the lament real power and character with her a Capella singing.
Sandy Denny
With another traditional song, Bonnie Woodhall, she conveys the story of the tragic love of a soldier who has left his true love, home and family behind and ends up left dead on the battlefield. Stapleton's Scottish accent, which seems much more pronounced on this track, adds to the authenticity. The emotional strand of Kristan Harvey on the fiddle adds another strand of colour to the ballad.
There is a complete change of pace with Jock Hawk's Adventures in Glasgow which is a skipping narrative about the main character, used to rural living, who naively looks for a good time in the city and falls foul of the locals, vowing never to return. You get the sense that Stapleton is enjoying herself singing this one and her use of the Scottish vernacular may make you listen twice to understand what is being said, but it's a real toetapper and one that deserves to be sung in a pub with the ale flowing freely.
Stapleton brings a poem by Helen Cruikshank to the table for the next track. The ponderous tale of the joy of children does what it says on the tin, it's a poem set to music or rather the music is fitted around the scanning of the poem, but however you look at it, it's worth a listen.
Willie O' Winsbury is another traditional tale which pops up in various guises and Stapleton's voice tells it as well as anyone. Her clear tones carried along by the fiddle and accordion playing as she gentle unfolds the narrative. There are great lines in this song such as "For if I was a woman as I am a man, my own bedfellow you would have been," work that one out if you can.
What a Voice is a gorgeously haunting track with Stapleton's voice crackling with depth and emotion, and adding more ethereal atmosphere is the constant drone of the accordion accented beautifully by the fiddle.
This more than any other track on this album shows you what an incredible voice Stapleton has.
Robyn Stapleton's debut
album Fickle Fortune
She goes back to the lone voice for Skippin' Barfit Through the Heather, the penny will drop about the title when you hear her Scottish dialect. Without taking away anything from the excellent musicians she has employed on this album, Stapleton needs no adornment, she has a vocal orchestra at her disposal, she can be light, have depth, be skittish, have strong emotion, create images and enthrall the listener all with her changes of pitch and tone.
The final track, The Lads That Were Reared Amang Heather is Stapleton going out with a bang. It's catchy and traditionally Scottish, light and like all the tracks on this album thoroughly enjoyable.
Stapleton won BBC Radio Scotland's Young Traditional Musician award in 2014 and when you listen to Fickle Fortune you can hear why.

Fickle Fortune is out now on Laverock Records.

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