Playing Time - 54:41 -- Eight of the twelve tracks on "Heart of America" span four minutes or longer. Donnie Munro's evocative mood pieces are carefully arranged to dynamically allow them to breathe with expressive vocals and rhythmically enticing instrumentation. Munro is a Scottish singer/songwriter whose thoughtful music has delicate, intimate or wistful poetic moments. Born on the Isle of Skye in 1953, Donnie's musical growth eventually led to him becoming frontman for the band, Runrig, until 1997. Runrig presented much Gaelic and Highland dance music, but they also incorporated influences from rock and other genres. Donnie's final album with Runrig was the 1995 release, "Mara."
In more recent times, Munro's been touring extensively and has built a large legion of fans for his Donnie Munro Band. Songs on this new album (his third as a soloist but first in four years) focus on new beginnings, hopes and expectations. The title track was written after a journey he took with his family through the northeastern U.S. and to Ellis Island. It's nice for an album to present as much emphasis on the songs as the singer.
Donnie sings in a warm, conversational style. Of special note are a few numbers in Gaelic (with translations provided in the CD's jacket). He continues his work with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (the Gaelic college on Skye), to support and preserve his native language and culture. Of course, the themes of migration, displacement, travel, hardship and opportunity are very well documented in music from Celtic lands. So what's Donnie's hook? A healthy dose of original material indicates that he can be both stirred and stirring. Donnie's eloquence may be best realized in such pieces as `Winds of Our Time," "Where the Roses," and "Love Will Never Die." His band also has an expressive signature sound, with somewhat of a dream-infused groove.
Besides his singing and playing acoustic guitar, The Donnie Munro Band has Foss Paterson (keys), Chaz Stewart (guitar), Morph Dobie (guitar), Jim Drummond (drums), Dougie Coulter (bass), and Chris Harley (vocals). Paterson is also known for his arranging and composing, but he does not apparently wear those hats in Donnie's band. He has an album out entitled "Then Came The Wheel." A foremost and highly sought after guitarist (actually multi-instrumentalist) in Scotland, Chaz Stewart released a solo album called "The Angel Falls" in 2001 and played with Scottish band Cliar until 2002. Chris Harley and Donnie Munro have worked together often over the years, as Chris had produced most of the Runrig albums as well as Donnie's latest releases.
"Heart of America" also features some excellent guest Scottish musicians -- Blair Douglas (accordion), Richard Macintyre (guitar), Duncan Chisholm (fiddle), Fraser Fifield (sax), Vivien Scotson (vocals), Donald "Doc" Livingstone (vocals). Also born and raised on the Isle of Skye, Douglas was a founder member of the bands Runrig, Mactalla and Cliar, and he has released many highly-acclaimed recordings. His self-penned "Strangers to the Pine" on Donnie's new album praises both the emigrants and their homeland on Skye. "The blood runs deep and the ties they bind." A up-and-coming singer/songwriter in her 20s, Vivien Scotson's beautiful voice can be heard in about five of the tracks on "Heart of America."
"Heart of America" is a significant achievement for Skyeman Donnie Munro. It's a splendid thematic set full of diversity, imagination and encouragement. With respect for both traditional and contemporary idioms, Donnie Munro builds a musical bridge from Gaelic culture, across the waves to opportunistic shorelines. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR.)