This generous stack of songs is well-sung, with plenty of variety. Yet there’s a “but...”
Label: Reveal Records
Time: 16 tracks / 58 mins
Long gone are the days when we have to announce Reader as the ‘former Fairground Attraction’ singer, as her solo career has long outstripped that moment of fame.
This disc opens with a couple of songs (“Wonderful” and the traditional “Maiden’s Lament”) that are typical Reader: mellow, well-paced, and with tunes so natural that you feel you’ve probably hear them before. All the time, her warm vocal feels close and intimate, as if she’s whisper-singing close to your ear.
The title track ups the pace further, boosted by some brass surprisingly low in the mix.
It’s probably illegal in Scotland to record a singer-songwriter album without a Boo Hewerdine song, so Reader includes two. You can probably tell from their name (“Keynotes”) the sort of far retro backing vocalists that grace “Starlight” and help its 1940s sound. His other track is the well-named “Old Song,” which also sounds like it could have been around in war-time.
“Meg o’ the Glen” is one of those songs that screams out “Gaelic tune,” with lyrics sung at tongue-twisting speed. The lyrics are actually English, but such is the pace, it takes a while to spot it. Then it bursts full-tilt into a fine Celtic reel, led by Alan Kelly’s energetic accordion and pipes by the wonderful and almost omnipresent Michael McGoldrick.
Then the mood turns mellower for more delicate performances until the very fine “Fishing” brings back the brass for a full-sounding and satisfying track.
Strings appear for “Maid o’ the Loch,” a gentle ode to a boat, and one of several sea-or-harbour-related songs. This time it’s John McCusker - another ubiquitous player – on flutes.
There’s plenty of variety here, so there are no accusations of monotony, but neither do many of the songs grab me with excitement. Very little either makes me want to dance or stops me with ethereal beauty. Yes, these are songs well and warmly sung with some excellent players involved, some very thoughtful lyrics, and the production is carefully staged to bring out different colours from different songs – but somehow, they still feel a bit grey – not least the disposable “Pangur Bán and the Primrose Lass.”
Maybe my expectations are too high. If “gentle, comfortable and thoughtful, with nautical themes, Celtic shades and nuances of nostalgia” describes your tastes, then you might really love this.