Tag Archives: Scottish female singers

Album review – Emily Smith: Echoes

16 Aug

“My Darling Boy”: Emily Smith explores a new Scottish sound

Echoes: Emily Smith pushes at the boundaries of genre and interpretation

Echoes: Emily Smith pushes at the boundaries of genre and interpretation

Emily Smith has the kind of kind of voice that makes an effortless bridge between traditional folk and the moodier, noir-ish tropes of today’s folk idiom. And she’s in great company. From Ange Hardy and Lucy Ward to Eliza Carthy and Kathryn Williams, we are living in a golden age of young female singers who are constantly pushing at the boundaries of genre and interpretation, creating fresh sounds that are rooted in the ancient craft of telling richly textured stories in song.

Smith’s latest album, Echoes, is a case in point – a collection of 10 traditional and contemporary Scottish songs reinvented with a 21st-century sophistication that honours the heritage they represent while hinting at the growing influence of Americana and the great troubadours of our time.

 For a second, the twanging guitar that heralds the opening track, “Reres Hill”, seems determined to drop you somewhere in the heat of the Deep South before the Celtic harmonies sweep you back to Caledonia. The arrangements are lush and plangent, the pace assured and the emotional connection between the voice and material is insistent and compelling.

Smith describes the album as heralding a “new Scottish sound” – and Echoes has the discrete confidence of a singer who is completely at ease with the organic arc of a career that has come a long way in the decade and more since she was crowned BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year.

There is an aching beauty in her phrasing, underpinned by the playing of a great band of guest musicians, including Jerry Douglas, Aoife O’Donovan and Rory Butler, which frequently tugs at the heartstrings  with a visceral urgency. The range of the material is absorbing, from the intimate tale of “The Sower’s Song” to the epic legend of “King Orfeo”, from the poignant account of “The Final Trawl” to the deceptive jauntiness of “Twa Sisters” – a story that ends in murder.

EP Review – Anna MacDonald: Paper Flowers

3 Aug

Naj’s Song: never mind the shaky camera work, just listen to Anna MacDonald and the Portobello Orchestra

Paper Flowers: a nightingale sings in George Square?

If a nightingale ever sings in Glasgow’s George Square, I’ll bet it sounds just like Anna MacDonald. Her voice has the same combination of urgency, brilliance and beauty that creeps into your sleep in the early hours and makes you wonder if you’re still dreaming.

On the epic “Matty Groves”, one of the standout tracks on her second EP Paper Flowers, it soars and shimmers as if ricocheting off the majestic buildings and echoes into the distant night like a siren call to another world. This traditional folk song is a sad and violent tale that builds on a simple melodic hook. In MacDonald’s feverish version, she seems to meld the bitter rivalry of the street fight with doomed love and murder in a mixture of urban imagery and pastoral folklore.

MacDonald is a gifted songwriter, too. Her ballads – the title track, the atmospheric “Glasgow Rain” and “Naj’s Song” – complement another traditional number, “Banks of Inverurie”, as sweet, melancholy paeans to hearts broken against the gritty background of a city that is clearly a major influence on her work. The texture is an arresting weave of Scottish and Gaelic traditions, with a dash of English folk. A full album would be welcome, and soon.

These are heady days for the female Scottish troubadour. That other notable MacDonald, Amy, already on to her third album, has helped to open a door into mainstream pop music for what seems like an army of young women, each with their own blend of traditional and modern musical tastes. Where Amy favours fierce, guitar-driven narratives in the manner of her breakthrough hit “This is the Life”, Anna is deceptively gentle and contemplative, that angelic voice telling quietly bleak truths about the realities of waning love and loneliness. There is plenty of room for them both.