October 2012

Barluath: "Source"An Auspicious Debut Album from Scotland

Nimbus Alliance NI6206
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Barluath is a Scottish folk band composed largely of students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, located in Glasgow. Through an arrangement with Nimbus Records, the Conservatoire has been releasing recordings of its virtuoso wind ensemble and compositions by some of its student composers. This is the Conservatoire's first disc of a pop nature, and it's a total success.

The five-member group is named after an ancient bagpiping embellishment used in a style of music called piobaireachd. You'll hear lots of fine piping on this CD, as well as superlative fiddle playing, whistles, and even synth glockenspiel and bass. 

But the headliner is singer Ainsley Hamill. She doesn't sing on every track, but she's captivating when she does. Hamill has a lovely, warm voice, and she can float a pianissimo high note that'll break your heart. She's also a whiz at rapid-fire diction, as you'll hear in "The Fox Hunter" and "Devil in the Kitchen." Her more lyrical nature shows up in "The Lambs on the Green Hills" and "The Selkie," a keening observation on what happens when a man falls in love with the mythic creature.

The band mixes traditional and modern music in sets that usually contain more than one song. "The Pentland Incident," for example, combines the songs "Heart Shaped Wood" and "Rushin' Dressing" with a new tune that keyboard player Alistair Iain Paterson wrote after a car accident on Pentland Road on the Isle of Lewis.

The recording of these fabulous young musicians is close up and highly detailed. There's a hint of reverb in the mix, but the balances all seem right. You probably won't understand half the words, but the accent and language are responsible -- not the recording. There are no translations or texts, but the band has written a thoughtful, informative paragraph about each set.

Barluath is a new folk band of virtuosos who can mix the lyrical and boisterous with absolute mastery. If you like The Chieftains, Boys of the Lough, and the Tannahill Weavers, you'll find much to enjoy in this disc. They have played mostly in Scotland, but they found time to visit Washington, DC, for two performances. If they come back to the US, I'd like to be among the lucky people who hear them!

Be sure to listen to: In the opening track, "The Fox Hunter," there's a lot of quick doubling between Hamill's voice and Paterson's piano. The exciting precision is admirable, as is the recording, which is transparent enough to let you follow each individually.

. . . Rad Bennett