The Rough Guide to Scottish Folk
(World Music Network)
US: 24 May 2010
UK: 24 May 2010
It begins liltingly with Karine Polwart’s “Follow the Heron”, and continues liltingly with a set from the Battlefield Band and goes on lilting until we get to the end—lilt, lilt, lilt, swing and sway, guitar, pipe, and voice,—it’s a very lilty compilation. A solo female voice lilts strongly and a solo male voice lilts too, with backbone, and there is a lilting mix of harp and pipes from Wendy Stewart and Gary West, a strange but beautiful combination of bitter and soft instrumentation. A snare drum comes in around the half-way mark to give it an extra kick: salt on a margarita rim.
The international reputation of indigenous Scottish music has been bent into a distorted shape: the big highland pipes have been popularised while the rest falls under their shadow. Scottish Folk is the opposite of that: it’s a record of intimacy rather than military blast. Remove the hop-pop Scots Gaelic singing of Julie Fowlis and this Rough Guide would sound like a bubble of purring bees. The admission of more rawness, grit, earthiness, would have been welcome—the bees purr too much, and the gentleness starts to feel ridiculous in Lori Watson’s “Maggie”, which is sung with a misplaced virgin sweetness. Does she think those men are missing Maggie for the sake of her virtues?