Genre: Folk (mainly traditional; Gaelic; vocal)
Playing time: 59 minutes
Availability (out of 3): ***
Related website(s): www.juliefowlis.com
My rating: 8/10
I like: Julie’s voice, the arrangements, the sound quality
I’m less keen on : The flimsy card packaging!
I first encountered Julie Fowlis’ singing through a friend. Somehow he had bought two copies of her album “Cuilidh” – and gave me one! I loved it, and some time later I bought this one. I keep hoping he will make the same mistake again!
Julie Fowlis hails from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, which is a Gaelic-speaking (and singing) community. She sings in that language predominantly, and most of her material is traditional.
I find Julie’s voice delightful; to me, it’s sweet and rich, but natural and never over-saccharine.
I like to keep my CDs in good condition, and also enjoy having the sleeve notes to hand. I don’t like card packaging at the best of times, but sadly the packaging on this is especially flimsy. My copy now sits in a duly labelled slimline case, with the card sleeve stored separately, which to me partly defeats the object of buying hard copy music!
The album contains 13 tracks (12 plus a “bonus” track), and plays for 59 minutes. I think that the sound quality is superb for a live album. On the first track, for example, Julie sings a capella (unaccompanied) and the sound is crystal clear with just a hint of reverb.
It’s also edited – much to my liking – so that the tracks lead seamlessly into one another, giving the feel of a true live performance. Some “live” recordings leave me disappointed, as the tracks are clinically separated and there is minimal applause or banter with the audience. If an album bears “live” in its title, I really think it should convey the feel of a live performance.
That this one was all recorded on the same occasion helps, as the sound is consistent in volume, tone and quality. There are no obvious glitches or blips in the performance of the recorded songs (not that this would bother me overmuch; it happens in live performance).
I find Gaelic very rich and expressive and when sung by Julie’s lovely voice the effect is quite spellbinding. Who cares what the words mean when the sound is like this? (Actually some of the songs she sings are traditional “mouth music”, nonsense songs for dancing to, and “waulking”, or work songs to make hard manual work seem less arduous). Some of these may appear a little inaccessible at first hearing. All I would say is to accept the voice as a musical instrument rather than as specifically as singing on such songs, and just enjoy the sound and feel of the music.
Some of the tracks
The musicianship throughout the album is superb, too (Julie also plays high whistles, Eamon Doorley plays bouzouki – basically a long-necked mandolin, Duncan Chisholm plays violin – and how! – Tony Byrne plays guitar, and Martin O’Neill plays bodhran). At all times the instruments support and enhance the vocals and don’t crowd them out.
Track 1: Ho Bha Mi, He Bha Mi
opens the album in the way that all live recordings should begin – with the announcement of the performer as she takes the stage, and a plea for a welcoming applause.
I’d be interested to know whether the first song on the album also began the concert. If so, it was a brave start as she launches into a slow, haunting song entirely unaccompanied and carries it off without a single blip or waver. The sound quality is exceptional, with just a nice hint of theatre echo.
Julie plays some fine whistle on an instrumental addition to the first track.
Track 3: Oganaich Uir a Rinn M’ Fhagail
is one of my favourites (I don’t think I can name a single outstanding one) with a sprightly and lilting tune. The singing is a delight, and so is the instrumentation, with Julie adding some whistle playing. The English title is “O noble youth who has left me” so I can only assume from the mood of the tune that she was glad to be rid of him!
Track 6: Lon Dubh [Blackbird]
is a “wee highland version” of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, and although it’s far from traditional I think it works very well, and Julie even sings a few lines in English. I like the evident but non-intrusive guitar accompaniment, and the way the fiddle of Duncan Chisholm creeps in and plays some beautiful harmonies and breaks, intense and almost spine-tingling.
Track 8: Biodh An Deoch Seo ’N Laimh Mo Ruin
features some audience participation from its commencement. It could only have happened in Scotland, as fans south of the border wouldn’t dare attempt it or would ruin it if they tried. Full marks from me again to the sound engineer who has captured this participation at just the right volume. It’s a lovely song with Julie’s voice delivering the melody well, and some delightful fiddle adding to the mix.
Track 9: Tunes set
is entirely instrumental. Julie demonstrates her adept whistle playing over a strummed guitar, the fiddle kicks in and the set of tunes begins to cook. If you don’t find your feet tapping to this, you really shouldn’t have bought an album of Celtic music, sorry!
Track 11: Hug Air A’ Bhonaid Mhoir
Enough of trying to describe Julie’s singing and music; here’s an example! Please don’t assume that the video quality is poor – it’s just that the “still” image is blurred! The footage wan’t captured at Perthsire Amber, but the song is the same.
Bonus Track 13: Pabay Mor
As if Julie’s voice and the fine instrumental playing of her band aren’t enough to spoil us, there is a bonus track with the great singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean guesting on one of his own songs, “Pabay Mor”. He sings and plays tenor guitar. Julie duets with him her voice rising and falling beautifully, and makes the song a truly bilingual one; the audience obligingly participate (in English!) To me the song is beautifully captivating.
If I had to choose one favourite, this would be it, “bonus” track or not!
Although the Gaelic lyrics may put some people off, I do find that the expressive language actually adds an extra dimension to the sound. Julie’s voice is also very lovely, and the album would appeal especially to those with an interest in traditional Celtic music.
I feel, though, that those who like acoustic music and/or female vocal may find this of interest, too.
My rating for the musical content of the album would be 9/10 but, even allowing for the increasing use of card packaging for CDs, I’m afraid I have reduced my rating to 8 due to the especially flimsy sleeve on this one.
My rating: 8/10
Please note – this is not a money-making blog and I am simply trying to share my enjoyment of music or other media. However I am anxious to credit any images included in my posts.