Wednesday 26 October 2016


CD Review

The Fruited Thorn

Not only does Kaela Rowan bring her own impressive pedigree to this, her second solo album, but she has also collected together an equally impressive band of musicians to create a disc which is other-worldly, moving and intriguingly hypnotic in many instances.

Kaela Rowan
Brought together to make her album are the likes of James MacKintosh, who co-produced it with her, Ewan McPherson - both of whom she has played alongside many times in Shooglenifty - Jarlath Henderson, John McCusker and Patsy Reid.
The haunting vocals of Dayam Khan Manganiyar are also worthy of mention.
Now Westlin Winds is the opener with its gentle guitar and subtle piano intro. Unsurprisingly, this a Burns' song, the poet also provided the album's title, Rowan learned from, the now sadly ailing, Dick Gaughan.
Like the winds she is singing about, Rowan's accent is both strong and gentle and she paints beautifully the picture of nature's landscape with her voice. In her breathy delivery there are shades of Sandy Denny.
This gives way to Eilean Fhianain which opens with the aforementioned Manganiyar bringing the mystical sound of the east with his gently wailing voice. This is juxtaposed with the Gaelic singing of Rowan and while you wouldn't ordinarily think the blend would work, the gentle pace of the tune means the differing styles weave in and out of each other seamlessly.
A good traditional ballad of treachery, Lord Gregory - which comes in several giuses,  gets the Rowan treatment next. Rowan lets her trembling voice execute the ballad in a wonderfully languid, almost lazy style of singing which is much slower and reserved than many versions.  Henderson adds some real atmosphere with his pipes to take the track out.
The haunting tale of a dead mother reincarnated to meddle in the lives of the living is sung in Gaelic on Nighean Nan Geug (O Girl of the Branches). With the continuous beat under Rowan's singing the song has the cadence of a hypnotic dance designed to bring a trance-like state to the participants and so often associated with pagan rituals.
Dayam Khan Manganiyar 
The gentle strumming of guitar strings brings in another arrangement, this time of the traditional tune As I Roved Out. This particular track comes to Rowan via Irish folk legend Andy Irvine when he was in Planxty. Henderson joins Rowan on vocals for what is a slow and thoughtful tale of sacrifice. 
It's always a treat when you get the lesser used instruments introduced into a song and MacPherson pretty much provides the percussion strand using the jaw harp for Mary and the Gallant Soldier. The buzzing, sizzling sound adds to the lightness of Rowan's slightly jaunty singing as she tells the tale of loyalty and love during a time of war.
Rowan's Scottish accent seems to strengthen for Blackbird(What A Voice) as she sings in a style close to a spiritual anthem. The peaks and troughs she introduces into her singing almost gives the feel of being on a boat crossing one of Scotland's many spectacular lochs. Her voice is gentle and full of emotion and hits the tone of the lament perfectly and MacKintosh's percussion adds a nice touch giving the impression of the subject's heartbeat.
Bratach Bana is a song from Barra an isle which for many fans of Dad's Army will always be associated with Private Frazier and his wide-eyed tales of the wild and lonely place. That aside, it is a lovely song of welcoming boats carrying exotic cargo and is mixed pretty seamlessly with cleverly used radio effects and shipping forecasts which somehow are always associated with lonely boats and mariners and create the atmosphere perfectly.
Another staple of traditional folk comes with If I Was A Blackbird, a tale of a spurned lover. Rowan takes on a more sensual tone for this arrangement and her arrangement keeps the bones of the song but knits a more contemporary flesh onto them to great affect. 
Last but one comes The Bonnie Woods O' Hatton which is another slow ballad of unrequited love which is given a strong percussive beat with the guitar. Even though this song has a gentle pace the beat still gets your feet tapping and the finale of the pipes seals the deal.
The second album
The final track Grioghal Cridhe brings Rowan's ethereal Gaelic singing back together with Manganiyar's wailing style again. They combine to recreate the ancient roots of this song and conjure up atmosphere which could transport you to strange exotic worlds on a carpet of music.
The Fruited Thorn is an album full of atmosphere where Rowan and MacKintosh have used their own impressive skills as musicians as well as getting the best out of the assembled cast.
From the striking artwork on the album sleeve to the expressive and versatile use of her voice this is an album that can move the furniture around in your mind. 

The Fruited Thorn is available now through the artist's website 

If you want to catch Rowan live then she will be playing The Seaboard Centre (Seaboard Memorial Hall), East Street, Balintore on November 11. Show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £8.80 including booking fee. She then plays Newbold House, 111 St Leonard's Road, Forres, nr Inverness on November 12. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £10 or £8 with concessions. 

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