Tuesday, 16 February 2016


CD Review

The River

First of all I would like to apologise to everyone for the gap in posts and delay in writing reviews. I have been in the convoluted process not just of moving house but moving country. I am now working from Williamstown, Galway, Eire. Over the last few months I have been dealing with solicitors, moving firms, estate agents and banks on both side of the Irish sea, some of which moved more quickly than others. On top of this I have been living out of boxes and trying to keep two cats, stressed out by house hopping between very kind and understanding family members and long journeys in their carriers, from going stir crazy.  
However, now I am fortunate enough to be looking out over green Irish fields in a blissfully peaceful area as I write this. So thank you to all of Folkall's followers, readers and visitors for your patience and loyalty. I will of course be keeping the reviews and news going from now on but will be expanding my coverage beyond the West Midlands for obvious reasons. 
I hope you enjoy my blog in the coming weeks and months and will continue to read, enjoy my efforts and spread the word. 
Also keep your messages and comments coming. I can be reached on danny@dfarragher.wanadoo.co.uk, danfare60@gmail.com or dannyfarragher@hotmail.co.uk. I am also on facebook and Folkall has it's own facebook page and you can contact me on twitter @dannyfarragher. 

At first glance the eye-catching artwork for this album gives the impression of it being firmly in the traditional folk camp, however, right from the opening track of Hamish Napier's personal journey it's clear he has no respect for boundaries when it comes to his music. 

Hamish Napier
First impressions, as in the opening track Mayfly, allude to a contemporary style which borders on jazz with a folk strand, but there is much more to it than that.
As you delve deeper into the album which is inspired by the Spey, the river of the title and which runs through Napier's life like the music does through the album, you realise folk music is very much a part of the Scottish artist's musical make up.
Napier's interpretation of the insect which leads a short but frantic life is mirrored in the weave and weft of his flute.
The title track is based around the multi-instrumentalist's skill on the piano where Napier tries to capture both the movement of the water and the landscape through which it cuts a swathe and he does it exceptionally well. This track is best listened to with your eyes closed because then the tune will carry you along like a fallen leaf in the swell or you can glide over the river like a bird of the air.
Napier, like a lot of Scottish musicians, seems determined to push the boundaries of what could be perceived as folk but at the same time keeping that traditional strand strong and true, and at times the listener guessing as to how and when it will come through.
Napier is more than capably abetted by fellow musicians Sarah Hayes, James Lindsay, Martin O'Neill and Calum MacCrimmon who all add to the imagery and emotions created by the main artist's compositions.
The Whirpool, another feature of the Spey, is characterised by Napier's impressive and almost breathless flute playing which dances along nicely. Which is appropriate because it does so into the slightly melancholy piano opening of The Dance, but once again this soon gives way to the gentle but wonderfully intricate tones of his flute.
If you wanted concrete evidence of Napier's respect for folk then the true story of tragedy entangled with myth is the clincher. The Drowning of the Silver Brothers is exactly what it says, two siblings became victims of the Spey in the 1930s and in Napier's mind, as he put together this haunting tune, was the White Horse of Spey a legendary kelpie who lured passersby onto its back before bolting and drowning them.
The beautiful voice of Napier's flute has the class of Sir James Galway and the emotive qualities of Gheorghe Zamfir, who admittedly played the pan pipes, but the artist's skill creates the same other-worldly sound.
Fate of the Kelts/Out To Sea is a musical lesson on the fate of salmon in the Spey from their spawning to the arduous journey out to sea before returning once again to their beginnings which are somehow mysteriously imprinted in their genetic make up.
Napier again uses the piano and flute to chart the journey and the changes for each section alluding to a different part of the aquatic lifespan.
Floating gets a little funky and does have a retro feel to its jazzy style as Napier creates the sense of floating down the Spey which was once done by teams of loggers. It's all in the interpretation as the modern tune seeks to tell the story of this time past on the river.
Huy Huy! is a story of language which is peculiar to the area and perhaps as you don't fully understand the musical narrative so you get a sense of how it was slightly foreign to Napier because the only words he appeared to understand were what became the title of the track. Iasgairean Nan Neamhnaid/The Pearlfishers is both a true and cautionary tales as much as it is a warning against environmental vandalism. The tune has an urgency and harshness and there is a lament-like quality to Napier's singing perhaps brought on by the misuse of nature's resources he has witnessed.
The final track is in two parts with The Spey Cast/Old Man of Dunshee taking the first part. The gentle flute sound tells the story of fishing on the river and how for one particular angler, who had reaped the rewards of the stretch of water for most of his life, was eventually returned and consumed by the Spey in what is a wonderful example of the circle of life. Napier's slow and thoughtful flute playing gives the feel of the time spent on rivers waiting and hoping for a bite but always with the lightness fishermen feel for being outdoors and revelling in nature at its best.
The stunning artwork for the album
The second instalment, The Raft Race, races along as the makeshift crafts would have in the surge of the river. Napier's machine gun style on this tune also conveys the feel of the merriment enjoyed by the rafters as they often ended up riding nothing more than flotsam and jetsam by the end of the race.
Napier's skill on the flutes, piano and a wide range of instruments, is impressive and his willingness to move folk into other areas may not sit will with all traditionalists but as a debut album you can't fault the musician for being innovative and daring and it has to be said it's worth getting hold of it simply for the wonderful pen-drawn artwork from Somhairle MacDonald, although if you are going to go down that route it would be worth finding out if there is a vinyl version, although you can order prints of the artwork by following the link to the artist's website.

The River is out now on Strathspey Records.

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