Playing Time - 56:47 -- The original McCalmans (Ian McCalman, Hamish Bayne, Derek Moffat) met in 1964 at the Edinburgh College of Art. The folk craze was in full swing with groups like the Kingston Trio and others having a significant impact on young college students worldwide. In 1982, Hamish retired to a life of building concertinas, and Nick Keir joined the group. When Derek Moffat sadly passed away in 2001, Stephen Quigg joined. Back in 1986, The McCalmans signed on with Greentrax Recordings when Ian Green's label had just formed, and the label's second release was the group's "Peace and Plenty." Six other McCalman albums have been released on the label over the years. Now, twenty years since they first contracted with Greentrax, the label's 300th album release is The McCalmans' "Scots Abroad." Their popularity, longevity and success are largely attributable to their strong vocals and harmonies anchored by Ian MacCalman, Nick Keir and Stephen Quigg. Instruments used include guitar, bodhran, keyboard, mouth organ, mandolin, and whistles.
Besides an emphasis on "Scots Abroad," the 17 songs also tell stories of Scots at home. The themes of traveling, rambling, dreaming and roaming have always been consistent crowd-pleasing subjects in Scottish ballads and songs. Over half of the offerings are originals, and I was particular intrigued by Nick Keir's wry-witted "American Accent" about the old days when everyone sung like Dylan or Elvis. I always enjoy good renditions of traditional fare like "The Broom o' the Cowdenknowes" and "The Skye Boat Song." From one of Scotland's finest songwriters, Karine Polwart's resplendent "Follow the Heron" tells of winter's back being broken as the seeds of summer have spoken. "Scotland's Story" speaks to the great ethnic diversity in Scotland's population.
The rousing 3-tune instrumental set at track 10 is a showcase for Nick's whistle. Nick Keir's "All Over This Town" is a heart-rending and eloquent love song. And, for a song about a favorite Scottish haunt for dreaming, listen to the beautiful imagery in Nick's "East Lothian Sky." Sung in English and Danish, "The Tivoli Song," a collaboration between Jeremy Taylor and Nick Keir, was recorded live in Hagge's Musik Pub in Tonder, Denmark. Closing the album is another live cut -- from the 2005 Scots Trad Music Awards concert, when they brought doon the house with their humorous "The 12 Folk Days of Christmas." I compliment the group and label for including both the lyrics for and notes about the background of each song (with the exception of the lyrics for "Learning to Row").
"The Macs," as they are endearingly called, are a premier male Scottish folk and vocal harmony trio. In 2004, they were honored at the Scots Trad Awards with the "Hamish Henderson Award for Services to Traditional Music." Truly indefatigable and wry-witted, The McCalmans continue to present new material. Because their largely baby boomer audiences are encouraged to sing along, I recommend that you pick up a copy of "Scots Abroad" so that you can learn some of their newest songs like Ian's "Extra Time" about aging healthfully, cleaning up your act and towing the line. As they sing in Leaving Denmark, "the old boat rolls a little more." It's a profound statement about their own endurance. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR.)