While Eddi Reader's Sings the Songs of Robert Burns
may sound like something deeply unpalatable foisted upon cowering school music students as part of the National Curriculum, it isn't. And besides--the former Fairground Attraction
vocalist has come up with a folk album sensitive to the protestations (Jacobite rebel songs), lusts and romantic tragedies ("Ae Fond Kiss" and the unbearable tenderness of "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose") of Rabbie Burns's work. While poetry may not be the new rock & roll, Alloway's 18th Century "ploughman poet" made more of a decent fist at getting pissed and overly frisky with the ladies than was ever managed by Jim Morrison. And when it came to poetry, Burns wrote "Tam O' Shanter". Morrison wrote "Death of My Cock". Enough said.
Abetted by some of the most prestigious names in the contemporary British folk world--John McCusker, Colin Reid, Boo Hewerdine, Kate Rusby (who duets harmoniously on the homesick Highland panorama of "Wild Mountainside") and with Kevin McCrae's eloquent string arrangements (with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) meriting comparisons to Robert Kirby's work on the first two Nick Drake albums, this is an album that serves to impress upon the listener the desire to explore the works of Burns--and Reader--further. If "Jamie Is My Darling"--a call to sexual initiation--is justly delivered with all the juvenile frisson of a tentative knee-trembler behind the bike sheds then "John Anderson My Jo" is breathtakingly poignant in its tale of life-long commitment. Thoughtfully--and for the benefit of Sassenach speakers of the "De'il's tongue"--Reader's sleeve notes provide handy translations of some of the more abstruse elements of Burns' Scottish dialect. She also admits to being a bit coy about Burns' bawdiness ( "Brose and Butter" omits the most offensive, female crotch-area word in the English language) so one can only hope she'll be brave enough to include a version of "Nine Inch Will Please a Lady" on her next Robert Burns album. After all, on the strength of this effort, a second volume is surely warranted. --Kevin Maidment
Eddi Reader's voice is an undeniably awesome thing. Her ability to swoop, soar and generally take your breath away has been a proven fact since Fairground Attraction's First Of A Million Kisses in 1988. Yet attempting new interpretations of the work of Scotland's greatest bard may be, to some of you, a step too far. Is it merely an exercise in trying to prove the old cliche about singing the phone book and making it sound wonderful? Surely old Rabbie just wrote corny stuff about mice and haggises? Well, wrong and wrong again. For Reader wants the world to rediscover what most residents of Scotland's West coast have known for three centuries. Burns wrote a top lyric and his words, filtered through Eddi's lovely larynx, again, come to life on this release.
Sure enough the usual classics are revisited. ''My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose'', ''Auld Lang Syne'' and ''Charlie Is My Darling'' all get a dusting down; but with a band and arrangements as good as this, it's like listening to a brand new repertoire. Ably abetted by her usual band and featuring the awesome fiddle of John McCusker and the lush orchestral arrangements of Kevin McRae, Reader has reached a logical point in a career that's gradually moved nearer to pure folk with every release. In her voluminous sleeve notes she contextualises the project by recounting how her move from the urban sprawl of Glasgow to the Ayrshire town of Irvine brought Burns' magic to her attention.
The delicate acoustic backings focus the mind on Burns' words. It's the universality of his messages that Eddi's attempting to convey here. The bawdy ''Brose And Butter''; the declaration of lasting devotion ''John Anderson My Jo''; and the call for political moderation and peace ''Ye Jacobites'' - all have a contemporary relevance. And as John McCusker says in his commentary, it's in no way in danger of being ''dead posh''.
If there's a reservation it's in the somewhat cloying nature of the strings of the RSNO. Yet this is a small gripe in the face of such a fresh look at a man's work that's justly celebrated every 25th of January north of the border. Interestingly the finest moment arrives with the song ''Wild Mountainside'' which isn't actually by Burns at all, but by the Trash Can Sinatras' John Douglas. It's included to demonstrate how the poet's muse lives on in Scotland to this day. On this evidence it'll be a long (or should that be lang?) time before Reader and her friends lose their inspiration. --Chris Jones
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