Some years ago the multiple award-winning Scottish harpist Ailie Robertson took part in the Arts Council’s Distil showcase for traditional music composers. This led to a Creative Scotland commission to write a suite of music for a traditional ensemble, and this CD is the result. Much of this music was actually written in a distillery during a week in Glenfiddich where she was struck by the resemblance between the crafts of whisky-making and music-making.
Traditional Spirits is a musical sound-scape inspired by whisky-making, and it combines traditional and classical styles with touches of jazz. Ailie’s harp is joined by fiddles, saxophone, whistle, bass, piano, guitar and percussion. Her harp technique creates a sound of extraordinary warmth and colour. Patsy Reid’s classically-trained fiddle is poised and soulful. Fraser Fifield adds his saxophone to delicately acoustic music with a skill and sensitivity worthy of Jan Garbarek.
The Favourite Dram, Islay Dawn and The Angels’ Share are slowly-unfolding, evocative compositions of great beauty, using traditional and jazz instruments with classical elegance, and a deep understanding that the pauses are as powerful as the notes in between. The Angel’s Share seamlessly blends its traditional, classical and jazz influences to create an exquisitely moving little masterpiece. A future career as a film score composer surely beckons.
There are jazzy, uptempo tracks here too, such as The Cooperage in which the percussive sound of hammers on iron and wood is emulated by the heavy rhythm of the drum kit, and the harp improvisation has a Spanish feel – alluding to the origin of the sherry barrels being hammered together to store the whisky. The saxophone brings a Balkan touch to Solera. The achingly joyous Brandy Wines is based on Quebecois dance rhythms, and – like sun breaking through rain – is both plaintive and uplifting at the same time.
Ailie’s debut album attracted rave reviews in 2008. This gorgeous follow-up deserves to do the same.
fRoots – July 2011.
THE OUTSIDE TRACK
Curious Things Given Wings
Mad River 1020
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Here’s an album that hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. The Outside Track is Celtic collaboration at its best–an ensemble consisting of Vancouver’s Norah Rendell (vocals, flute), Cape Breton’s Mairi Rankin (fiddle), Scottish harper Aillie Robertson, Limerick-based accordionist Fiona Black, and Irish guitarist/composer Cillian Ó Dálaigh. They dust off some well known sea songs, Celtic ballads, and North American compositions, supplement them with sets of old and new tunes, and make everything sparkle like party lights on a moonless night. Rendell’s vocals are a revelation–pure, strong, and expressive. She can make a pirate song like “The Turkish Revery” sound so appealing that we have to remind ourselves that she’s singing a tragic tale. Hers is the sort of voice that is equally at home with wistful Irish songs such as “Blackbirds and Thrushes,” country-tinged North American material such as “Caroline of Edinburgh Town,” and the bouncy New Brunswick gender-reversal tale “Silvy Silvy.” The tunes are tight, joyous, and some times whimsical. “Swerving for Bunnies” is an example of the latter, a set that’s one-part light jazz swing and another swooping Irish-flavored fiddle delight. This album has a fresh contemporary feel to it many moods, the likes of which we’ve not heard since the demise of The New St. George. It’s hard to choose which impresses more, the topnotch musicianship or the album’s sheer exuberance.
Check out the band’s promo video and then grab the new CD.
Posted by Phoenix Brown & Lars Vigo
The reviews of ‘Curious Things Given Wings’ by my band The Outside Track have been arriving, and we’re delighted with the response we’ve been getting! Here’s some highlights!:
“Wow and Wow again! This is the best new group we have heard in quite a while. Stunning. This album is just the beginning. Wow! (Did we already say that?)” – From Tradition In Review
“simply a consummate blend of skill, talent, flair and intensity. Best of the best! The perfect blend ” – Folkwords
“They are obviously having a ball, and you can almost see them smiling as they reach the final chords” – Taplas Magazine
“The music takes flight the moment the CD is put in the CD player, and hits you immediately with its constant impact and drive” – Ireland Journal
“Their arrangements are imaginative and the playing is faultless. Celtic music – full of energy and virtuosity!” – Folkworld.de
“This quintet has evolved into a powerful focused group. Curious Things Given Wings – an intriguing title for an enthralling CD which sets The Outside Track on a very promising course, highly recommended” – Irish Music Magazine
I got this lovely review from the people at Folk Radio UK recently. Check out their site – www.folkradio.co.uk for a fantastic listening source for all types of celtic and indie music!
This is an incredible debut solo from Ailie Robertson. Her credentials are astounding for a young musician of 24 years. I really struggled to find enough words to put across my praise for this magnificent debut. It’s moving, beautiful and totally original. It is a masterful album that combines Irish and Scottish influence as well as an undeniably clever contemporary twist. Ailie shows that the Celtic harp can be just as at home with guitar, bass, percussion and piano as it can be as a solo instrument. This album will take you to places you have never been before, quite simply it is mind-blowing!
First Things First by Ailie Robertson
First things first – this is a superb, innovatively-arranged set of tunes delivering a burgeoning, rich, warm sound. The eleven thoroughly fresh-sounding arrangements feature not only Ailie’s clarsach, but also percussion (the cajon sounds
excellent!), guitar, bass and piano. For me, “˜First Things First” demonstrates above all else just how good the clarsach can sound in a band setting. Through lively reels to exquisite slow airs, Ailie’s playing effortlessly combines a vigorous, refreshing sense of “attack” with real emotion and poise.
The music leads you on a sinewy, seductive journey, starting with the deceptively languid-yet-funky groove of opening tune “˜The Exploding Bow” through to gorgeously expressive, poised tunes like the self-penned “Sands of Hosta” (inspired by a walk on a glorious North Uist beach). The bold freshness of these arrangements delivers the “WOW” factor big-time with a sparkling take on Donald Morrison’s slip jig,”Donald, Willie & His Dog”. Here, the fabulous combination of instruments explodes into a rhythm-packed crescendo of Flamenco-style handclaps. Piper Allan MacDonald’s wonderful tune ‘Na Goisidich/The Gossips’ gets equally fresh, funked-up treatment, and the effect is stunning!
A wonderful debut solo release by this young Scottish musician who isn’t afraid to fuse contemporary, jazz-inflected playing with the traditional Scottish and Irish playing techniques developed over the years. This is gorgeous stuff.
I highly recommend you pop over to Ailie’s MySpace page or website and have a listen to her gorgeous tunes:
Please visit Folking.com for more great reviews.