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Audio CD, 26 Mar 2012
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Product details

  • Audio CD (26 Mar. 2012)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: PIAS.
  • ASIN: B0076L9XCW
  • Other Editions: Vinyl |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 274,067 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Product description

Product Description

The Gaels of Scotland are a Celtic people, related to the people of Ireland, the Isle of Man and, more distantly, to the people of Wales, Cornwall and Brittany in France; they share cultural and linguistic similarities with them all. As with their Celtic neighbours, the Gaels are the keepers of an ancient and noble folk tradition, one which the American folklorist Alan Lomax referred to (in a letter to the Scottish poet Hamish Henderson) as the finest flower of Western Europe.

The Scottish Gaelic tradition is incredibly diverse for such a small country - each area, each island, has its own repertoire of songs and tales and many towns and villages formerly had their own bards and storytellers.

Ceol s Craic, a Glasgow-based club devoted to promoting Gaelic arts in the city, brought Mairi and Alasdair together to make Urstan , which takes its title from a Lewis-specific word for a celebration held at the birth of a new child - a dram of whisky, basically.
Most of the tracks are traditional Gaelic songs, with a few Scots songs and self-written tracks too, all played in new, forward-facingarrangements by an ensemble including Stevie Jones (bass), Alastair Caplin (fiddle) and Alex Neilson (drums).

Urstan features guest appearances from such Glasgow music scene luminaries as Michael John McCarthy (Zoey Van Goey), David McGuinness (Concerto Caledonia), Ross MacRae and Richard Merchant (Second Hand Marching Band), Peter Nicholson (The One Ensemble), Mike Hastings (Trembling Bells) and Gaelic song and piobaireachd authority Allan MacDonald.
Urstan presents a spirited and innovative musical re-imaging of a number of classic traditional Gaelic and Scottish numbers and one original tune each from Mairi and Ali.

There s fastidious notes included in both Gaelic and English, but the compulsive rhythms and moods conjured by the band will leave you little time to read while the music plays - Urstan is a physically absorbing experience, filled to abundance with colour and the love of life.

BBC Review

Whether he puts his considerable talent to writing wordy, traditional-styled ballads or performing centuries-old folksongs dealing in X-rated murder and infanticide, Alasdair Roberts’ albums are nearly always timeless affairs. Take the Scottish treasure’s third and sixth albums, No Earthly Man (2005) and Too Long in This Condition (2010): they contained mostly traditional songs but were mesmerising in their otherworldliness, their stories casting the same foreboding shadow that they would have done when savagery was rather more pronounced.

Roberts channels stories so intensely it’s as if this wraith-like figure ghosts between the centuries and knows the experience behind them. Roberts says he prevents his albums from becoming heritage projects by picking songs that strike a chord and then contemporising them – it’s cathartic, he explains. But Roberts’ two most recent projects have put in danger his claim that he’s not just trying to protect the past. Last year he curated a terrific compilation of Alan Lomax’s Scottish folksong recordings, Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree (Drag City); and here teams up with Mairi Morrison for an album of ‘lost’ Gaelic songs.

The idea that this is just folksong salvaging is nixed, however, on a first listen of Urstan. It just sounds so exciting that it must be relevant – whatever the (mostly) Gaelic-language ballads and work songs are about. The album sprung from a meeting between Highlands-raised Roberts, who’s often to be found seeking out stories and songs at Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies, and Isle of Lewis-born Gaelic singer Morrison at Glasgow’s Gaelic arts-promoting Ceol’s Craic club. The payoff, which includes two original songs, is invigorating.

Forget austere, bleak, slavishly traditional renditions – this is Roberts and Morrison we’re talking about. These love and ‘waulking’ songs – one of them originally sung by women weaving tweed – are expansive, joyful, mysterious things. Làrach do Thacaidean is a swinging, rhythmic riot of percussive voices, harmonica, skittering drums and a groovily looping guitar lick; elsewhere there’s jazzy bass and playful, swelling arrangements for wind and string played by Scottish nu-folk royalty, including a member of Trembling Bells. Roberts’ sprightly guitar work is almost swallowed by swirls of colour, and his fragile voice is looser than ever, twisting around his Gaelic teacher’s beautiful voice.

These sublime songs come from the UK – albeit from the very far northwest of Scotland – and yet Urstan sounds as exotic and entrancing as any wildly acclaimed world-music album released in the past few years. And as Roberts shows, time and again, there’s life in the old songs yet.

--Chris Parkin

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Most helpful customer reviews on 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 reviews
DJ Joe Sixpack
5.0 out of 5 starsAnother challenging indie-meets-folk outing from Alasdair Roberts
24 August 2012 - Published on
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