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Traditional Music >> Performers >> Reviews >> Jock Tamson's Bairns

Jock Tamson's Bairns: Rare
(Greentrax CDTRAX266, 2005)


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I was very happy to receive the latest CD from one of Scotland's best groups. Back in the 1970s when I was discovering folk music through bands such as Silly Wizard, The Battlefield Band I guess they were the yardstick by which others were measured. I first heard the Bairns in 1982 when their second LP was released, and it was an eye-opener for me. There was something different about them, but I couldn't put my finger on it. They were a little more considered, perhaps, and I was excited that their repertoire was 100% Scottish.

Wind forward to 2005, and their fourth official recording Rare, which doesn't fail to match up to the usual standard. The usual balance between song and instrumentals is just right, and it's the quality of the song accompaniment which often marks the group. The opening song, Blythe, Blythe and Merry Was She (or as I know it, Andro and his Cutty Gun), lets us know we're in for a treat. The twin fiddles of Derek Hoy and Ian Hardie play a big role in the rhythm of this piece, and indeed throughout the whole album, while Norman Chalmers's contribution to the track establishes just how much a lowly traditional instrument like a jaw harp can augment a group sound (later Rod Paterson plays it on two tracks, and Norman adds triangle to his armoury).

The first instrumental track is collection of tunes taken from Jack Campin's Embro, Embro collections, and is a lesson in group arrangement, as the boys weave a tapestry of sounds both delicate and joyful in turns. In a set of Ian Hardie compositions other textures are introduced, from heavenly low whistle to Hardie's own double bass and John Croall's understated bodhran. Fans of reel sets will enjoy Da Grocer/Pottinger's Compliments to Ronnie Cooper/The Marquis of Huntly's Reel which builds up nicely to a full-pelt stramash with Rod Paterson's jazz chords echoing Peerie Willie Johnson's accompaniment of Tom Anderson's fiddle. The final reel in the set is Peter Milne's wonderful reel The Marquis of Huntly's. First time through is played straight, second time a clever use of alternative chords creates an atmosphere. Another track opens with another superb Ian Hardie piece, The Grave of the Unknown Clansman before going through a couple of traditional strathspeys and a reel. The poignant Baba Mo Leonabh is melancholy to a divine degree, a sweet ache familiar to lovers of the slow air.

The fiddles play a large part in the songs, setting the scene for both Fause Knicht on the Road and a new setting of The Bonnie Earl o' Moray. Aye Waukin' O is dedicated to original Bairn the late Tony Cuffe, and I was impressed that the group decided against anything fancy in their arrangement of this Burns standard. The words carry the song, and in my opinion here they're allowed to do so. The collection ends with a surprisingly melancholy The Bogend Hairst; it is in fact a song of complaint about a particularly hard fee, but I have usually heard it sung with more gusto than this. It works, however, and is a perfect way to finish the album.

If you've heard Jock Tamson's Bairns before you know what to expect, and you'll not be disappointed with Rare. If you haven't, you may just give yourself an absolute treat with this album. In the end, we're a' Jock Tamson's bairns.

Nigel Gatherer, 30 Jun 2005

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