The strength in depth that we have in Scottish women singers goes surprisingly unremarked. (Yes, I know that I go on about it all the time but who else does?) Hard on the heels of the new Stravaig CD and the CD re-release of Heather Heywood's classic "Some Kind of Love" comes this second offering from that adventurous duo Janet Russell and Christine Kydd.
Russell's voice, low pitched, warm and with that slightly nasal edge contrasts with Kydd's higher, clear tones but they complement each other beautifully and the harmonies are interesting and apt. Most of the material is traditional, the arrangements imaginative and often unexpected though never losing sight of the central importance of the song. "Duncan Gray" is sung over a riff which I am told on good authority was borrowed from "Big Yellow Taxi", Marie Campbell stepdances to Russell's feisty "The Fisherman's Wife", and one of the three "tune sets with words" has James Mackintosh on bongos and kashishi bopping along to "Lady Mary / Reel O Stumpie / Tail Toddle", the first sung, in Lizzie Higgins mode, to the tune "Mrs H.I. MacDonald of Dunach" and the latter two sung with delightfully salacious relish. The tune "Lady Mary Ann" then turns up with the words of "The Parting Glass" attached, and they sound quite comfortable together. Producer Jack Evans adds some lovely whistle here, and Marie Campbell puts some delicate viola to a gentle "Logan Water".
Of the other two "tune sets", "Les Filles Des Forges / Faca Sibh Mairi Nighean / Up An Awa Wi the Laverock" with added vocals from Michael Byrne works well until the ending when the slowdown is a bit too slow while "Jock Since Ever / Macaphee / Ho Ho Bonnie Lass" is pure mouth music driving in tandem with Jim Sutherland's bodhran, which also adds a touch of bravura to "Rattlin', Roarin' Willie". I am not quite sure that the diddled version of "The Bluebell Polka" will bear repeated listening but it is good fun as are both "Strathmartine Braes" and "La Caille" the tale of a spirited young lass married to an old man.
Their spare version of "The Terror Time" with just the voices, sometimes double tracked, evokes pity and rage while coupling Dave Robertson's fine song "Pride's Awa" with an African freedom chant makes a powerful point. Jewel of the set, though, is a compelling version of "Clerk Saunders" where Christine Kydd's pure unadorned singing is eerily counterpointed by the ghostly whispered echo from Janet Russell's deeper, darker tones. Unfussy guitar, bass from Jack Evans, and sensitive viola from Marie Campbell complete this haunting track.
This fine album is an example of how love and respect for the tradition can be allied to a sense of adventure - and humour - to produce a work that is interesting, accessible, enjoyable and at times deeply moving.