The British folk scene is incredibly strong at the moment. We have the populist freneticism of Mumford and Sons, the eclectic and adsorbing Bellowhead and luminaries such as Seth Lakeman and Spiers and Boden making a strong impression with their traditional stylings. Much as I love these artists work, I would argue that some of the most sublime records coming out at the moment hail from the North of England and Scotland, and this offering from three of Scotland's finest is one of the picks of the crop.
It's that style of music, Celtic rhyhms, gentle guitars, Gaelic fiddle work, gorgeous vocals, that instantly conjures up images of glens and moors shrouded in morning mist as lonesome lovers wander through singing of their heartbreak. Or uptempo reels that evoke pictures of a right good highland knees up. I love it unequivocally.
The song writing has a maturity to it that really grabs the attention. And the music - oh the music. It has such depth. It truly is a thing of beauty. The vocals are sweet and perfectly deliver their message. I have to say that this album really is gorgeous. 5 stars.
on 16 September 2008
As the old adage goes, if you want something done, ask someone busy. And if you want to hear some of the freshest, savviest, sweetest and most original songwriting around, look no further than three of the busiest musicians in Scotland, newly in cahoots as a trio: Kris Drever, John McCusker and Roddy Woomble.
"Our paths had all crossed in various ways over the past few years - working with Kate Rusby, and on Kris and Roddy's solo albums - and our starting-point was basically just that we all really liked each other's stuff," says McCusker, equally renowned as a producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist.
For Woomble, who recently marked ten years as lead singer of Idlewild, the new trio project is a natural onward step from his acclaimed 2006 solo debut, My Secret Is My Silence. "Being in the same band for that long, you get used to writing songs in that context," he says. "The solo record was the first time I'd really pushed myself in other directions, and that's given me the confidence to take it further: Kris and John each have such a different take on things like melody and lyrics, but we're all working equally on the songs together, so the whole thing feels totally new."
That forthcoming fresh yet seasoned debut, named simply for its authorial triumvirate, was written over the course of just six or seven afternoons in McCusker's Edinburgh living-room, demo-ed on a laptop, then transferred to the studio with judiciously minimal embellishment. "It was amazingly quick," says Drever, the Orcadian singer-guitarist who won a 2007 Radio 2 Folk Award for his own first solo album, Black Water, and is a member of firebrand folk trio Lau. "We had a target number of songs we wanted to record, and we really didn't discard many. A lot of them have stayed quite stripped-down, keeping that rawness."
An array of stellar guests from both the folk and rock spheres contribute to the album, including Radiohead drummer Philip Selway, Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake (vocals) and Francis MacDonald (drums), Capercaillie bandmates Donald Shaw (keyboards), Mike McGoldrick (flute/whistles) and Ewen Vernal (bass), plus Irish singer Heidi Talbot.
DREVER McCUSKER WOOMBLE - BIOGRAPHIES
KRIS DREVER: Orkney-born Kris, emerged from the ferment of the late-90s Edinburgh session scene as a member of bands including Fine Friday and Session A9, and an increasingly sought-after accompanist, working with artists including Eddi Reader and Julie Fowlis. Fast building his name both as a guitarist of exceptionally eclectic talent, and a singularly eloquent interpreter of traditional and contemporary songs, he released his debut solo album, Black Water, in October 2006 for Reveal Records, going on to win the Horizon prize for best newcomer at the following year's Radio 2 Folk Awards. Doubling as a founder member of the electrifying folk trio Lau, alongside fiddler Aidan O' Rourke and accordionist Martin Green, he spent much of 2007 taking the international festival circuit by storm.
JOHN McCUSKER: Was born in the same Bellshill hospital as most of Teenage Fanclub and Sheena Easton, John McCusker formed his first band, Parcel O'Rogues, at fifteen, and joined top Scottish folk act the Battlefield Band two years later, remaining with them until 2001. During this time he also began a twelve-year partnership with celebrated Yorkshire folk-singer Kate Rusby, producing several of her award-winning albums and anchoring her live band. John's film and TV soundtrack credits include the Damien O'Donnell movie Heartlands, Jennifer Saunders' BBC1 sitcom Jam and Jerusalem, and Billy Connolly's World Tour of New Zealand. He has recently recorded on Mark Knopfler and Paul Weller's latest albums, and is current producing the forthcoming debut solo release by Radiohead drummer Philip Selway. In between working with Kris and Roddy, John will be spending much of 2008 in private jets and stadiums, as a guest on Mark Knopfler's world tour before releasing another album and tour from his Under One Sky commission in the early Autumn of 2008.
RODDY WOOMBLE: A native of Irvine - small-town Scotland writ large - Roddy co-founded Idlewild in 1995, naming the band for the quiet haven featured in his then-favourite book, Anne of Green Gables. Given that the NME likened their early punk-fuelled sound - deftly revisited on their latest album, 2007's Make Another World - to "a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs", the quiet haven part was initially somewhat ironic, but gradually came closer as Idlewild meanwhile progressed through sweeping melodic rock to rootsy, melodic sparseness. Extending that softer lyrical vein of Roddy's songwriting, 2006 saw his first solo release, My Secret Is My Silence, winning rave reviews across both the rock and folk press. He was also a key instigator behind the acclaimed 2007 album Ballads of the Book, bringing together leading Scottish poets and musicians to collaborate on new songs. After extensive recent touring with Idlewild, Roddy will be spending much of 2008 - as every other year - scribbling observations and lyrics in his notebook while out on walks.
This is a lovely album. Following Woomble's' excellent 'My secret is my silence' Roddy W teams up with Kris Drever and 'Mr Kate Rusby' John McCusker, to create an almost classic folk rock album.
Typical moody melancholic fare from the trio which manages to maintain the high standard from start to finish.'Silver and Gold' which opens the album sets the bar which is followed on by the radio friendly 'Into the Blue '. A real melodic masterpiece.
The album has a laid back West coast feel with mellow Indie-esque tracks mixed in with more traditional stuff like the eponymous title track 'Before the ruin'.
Personally, I'm not sure what one reviewer was on about when he complained of Roddy dominating the album. Well...he's the main vocalist and the tracks are certainly have the Woomble vibe. Is that supposed to be a bad thing ?
Not in my book !
One to keep near the top of your regularly played CD pile.
on 16 September 2008
Ever since hearing Roddy Woomble's first solo project, My Secret is My Silence, i have been eagerly anticipating a follow up, so i was counting down the days when i discovered two weeks ago that the album was set for release on September the 15th. I knew Roddy was working on some new songs and figured he would be looking to attempt a solo - idlewild - solo - idlewild ratio to his efforts so it was only natural that following 'Make a New World' we would be treated to another chapter to what, i imagine is the vast majority of his fans, is our second introduction to folk.
So what is it like. Well, those expecting another installment of 'My Secret..' should note that the front sticker clearly lables this a 'debut' album for the callaboration, it isnt so much a sequal for Roddy but the work of what can only be described as a group of performers, and this is evident in the first track, Silver and Gold; whereas 'My Secret.' could be linked to idlewild in a musical devolution in most of the tracks, Before the Ruin makes a claim straight away as an entirely seperate species. The guitars are light , the bass-heavy finger plucked acoustics have been replaced by light, soft picking which is more atone with traditional folk sounds, clearly Drever and McClusker's influence, and its by no way a bad thing as Roddy's earthy, imagery-rich lyrics compliment the tone quite beautifully, it certainly is a different sound that what we are used to hearing.
This theme continues throughout, many of the tracks at first may seem rather tame or understated, but as usual with anything written by Roddy Woomble, the listener is rewarded every now and then by a lyric that demands attention or a harmony that makes you want to listen again and again to the song, which in turn leads you through different paths of the music until the whole track makes for repeated enjoyment.
The stand out tracks, as well as the opener, have to be the title track, a 4 minute journey which, quite frustratingly yet brilliantly only includes two chorus lines early on, keeping the listener intent on going back for more, and the quite brilliant 'Rest on the Rest' which is awash with verse, chorus, bridge, harmony so that its not quite clear exactly which is which, but this isnt a bad thing, it gives the track real depth and such is the tone of the singing, could make any day a happy one, and this is before Drever's heavenly voice takes the lead for one round of whay i can only assume is the verse.
In a way i am glad that this isnt a sequal to My Secret is My Silence, it would be nice if this were to remain a one off, while that would rob us of more Roddy Woomble magic, it just adds to the lure of what is a truly special album. I will however be first in the queue for a sequal to this new trio of quite exceptional musicians. I gave My secret 5 stars and in a way created a rod for my own back as i dont think this could ever have been as good as that, so i will call it four, but only in relation to that quite exceptional benchmark
on 11 December 2009
I didn't know what to expect from "Before The Ruin" when I got hold of it. Roddy Woomble's indie-rockers Idlewild have been evolving their sound significantly from album to album, and his debut solo album, "My Secret is My Silence" was an elegant departure as important and amazing as any of his other work. Kris Drever, a very tradional Scottish artist and enigmatic John McCusker, combined with this analysis, made me wonder what exactly was going to emerge.
The result was a sound quite close to "My Secret is My Silence" but with a focus on an overall album sound as opposed to the partial group-of-musicians-come-together-to-make-an-album sound from before. And as with other Woomble works, this is no exception in terms of quality. It has pretty much everything you can want from a modern folk album. It has beautiful strings, masterful vocals from Woomble and touches of absolute genius from Drever and McCusker, especially during the feature vocals on "Rest on the Rock" and "Out of Light".
The album opens with an irresistable guitar riff of "Silver and Gold", so soft and warm and inviting that you almost gasp with the joy of it. Roddy's vocals come in so subtly and perfectly that it is clear from the off that this is going to be a great opening track. The quality continues with "Into the Blue", perhaps the most radio-friendly song on the CD, with its pop notions and catchy chorus. Epic folk wanderings follow with "All Along the Way" and "Before the Ruin", both departures from the almost safe-bet openers, but both as wonderfully familiar and radically brazen as you can imagine.
The second half of the album is the more obviously collaborated-upon section. The instrumentals are longer and the Drever, McCusker side of the music becomes slightly more dominant. They complement Roddy perfectly all the way through, and by the time you realise that "Stuck In Time" (the album closer) is winding down slowly, you'll be begging for another tune.
What is most notable about this music is that it can be played at any time. It gives you energy and relaxes you at the same time, while so pleasant on the ears and exciting to listen to with its harmonies and brilliant ideas. It constantly reinstates its purpose from song to song. This is a message, a fable and a rural gem all rolled together into one unmissable hour of the most inspiring music I have ever heard. There is nothing quite like it.
"Before The Ruin" is a flawless, perfect album and is definitely one of the top 10 albums I've ever had the pleasure of listening too. Even if you find yourself cringeing at the idea of a folk band, or running at full speed away from a fiddle (like I normally would, even) or a rough Scottish voice, this album will enchant you and take you to another place. You cannot miss it, you cannot be blind enough to ignore it and you should cherish it forever as one of the best records of this generation.
I'm afraid I was left underwhelmed by this, especially compared to Roddy's excellent solo album.
There's nothing wrong with it, but after several listens, I can't particularly remember any of the songs. It's the kind of thing I would stick on in the background if my parents were round.
Perhaps it will eventually work its way in to my subconscious, given enough plays, but unfortunately it comes across as much less than the sum of its parts.
on 14 January 2009
This is without question my album of 2008; it's barely been off my stereo since I got a copy! For a first time collaboration, on hearing the album you'd think this fantastic trio had been touring the folk circuit years and had half a dozen albums under their belts. Woomble's sensitive, melancholic vocals combined with Drever's more gravelly sound make for a beautiful combination. McCusker's musicality shines through and with a host of guest musicians including Teenage Fanclub legend Norman Blake and Radiohead's Phil Selway, this purchase is a must for any fans of the contemporary folk music scene.
on 16 December 2009
I was aware of the independant work of McCusker, Woomble and Drever and therefore I wasn't surprised at how good they sounded when Iheard them perform together last New Year. I bought the album for myself immediately and then subsequently bought a copy as a gift for a friend in the US who was equally as impressed.
The combination of voices, tones and emotions is outstanding. There's clearly a Folk basis but this is enhanced by more traditional hues and definate rock influence. The writing is superb and very emmotive.
I think this album would appeal to Folk fans as well as those whose former bias was towards a rock sound that is now muted through age !
on 10 January 2011
We are recent Kris Drever fans and having heard his last CD first this record took a while to grow on us. Gentle, poignant, and very, very musical, it is definitely one to try - and don't be put off by the "folk" classification if you're not a folky. This is one for everyone.
on 13 November 2012
I would have bought this CD for the track 'Poorest Company' alone. It is quite possibly the most perfect song I have ever heard. Actually, all the other songs are pretty good, too. I would have liked more Drever but that is just personal bias.