Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

Top 10 Albums of 2009

2009 was a fantastic year for music, especially of the folk and traditional variety. As I assembled my Top 10 albums of the year, I realized that the majority of the artists on the list were new to me this year. Some are new artists with debut recordings, others are seasoned professionals adding to their catalogs. Regardless, the one thing all of the albums on this list have in common is that they are incredibly brilliant and every single one of them made my mouth drop open. They excited me, moved me, and made me hit the repeat button numerous times.

As is usually the case with such lists, there were more albums than space and, as I came to the last spot, I had to choose between three equally deserving entries. The two albums that very narrowly missed making it into this year’s Top 10 are Annbjørg Lien/Bjørn Ole Rasch – Come Home and Fiddlers’ Bid – All Dressed in Yellow. Which brings me to the one that did make it:

#10  Julie Fowlis – Uam.

Julie’s third album is just as lovely as her earlier works, though this one has a more traditional sound, which really serves to accentuate Julie’s vocals. Uam also features a great duet with Eddi Reader.

Favorite Tracks:  Rugadh Mi ‘n Teis Meadhan Na Mara, Wind And Rain

#9  Yvonne Lyon – Ashes & Gold

This is an album of delightful extremes, from light-hearted & carefree to poignantly dark & intense. I find her songwriting more intimate, more personal, and more mature than on previous releases. Her voice carries an amazing amount of emotion that goes straight to the heart.

Favorite Tracks:  The Reckoning, Hollow Sound

#8  Donald Grant – The Way Home

A spectacular album that fuses a variety of world music styles with Donald’s gorgeous fiddling. It’s a brilliant melting pot of sounds and an excellent showcase of his versatility as a composer.

Favorite Tracks:  Rollerblade Reels, An Gille Bàn

#7  Maggie MacInnes – A Fàgail Mhiughalaigh

Maggie’s voice is incredibly beautiful and she has taken a really fresh approach to this album. Behind the Gaelic lyrics, keyboards & percussion meet pipes, clarsach & fiddles, to fantastic effect.

Favorite Tracks:  Leis An Lurgainn, ‘N Robh Thu ‘Sa Bheinn?

#6  Jamie McClennan – In Transit

This album has continued to impress me the more I listen to it. It is definitely a fiddle album, but Jamie has a really fun, eclectic, funky style that makes it a true delight to listen to. It features some dazzling tune writing, to boot.

Favorite Tracks:  Little Red, Horizontal Living

#5  Martine Lund Hoel – Hidden Shore

There is a wild, exotic energy that runs through this entire album. It’s passionate and utterly intoxicating. It’s very easy to envision the extreme ruggedness of northern Norway when listening to the album.

Favorite Tracks:  Varganatt, Disquiet Hour

#4  Catherine Fraser/Duncan Smith – Rhymes & Reasons

This album features really enchanting takes on traditional tunes. Elements of Cape Breton and American fiddling are woven throughout Catherine’s Scottish style. They are also not afraid to step outside the box and throw in a few surprises.

Favorite Tracks:  Rothiemurchus Rant set, Raoghull Agus Cairistine

#3  Olov Johansson/Catriona McKay – Foogy

This album is the epitome of innovation. It’s vibrant, exciting, and truly phenomenal. Olov, on nyckelharpa, and Catriona, on Scottish harp, come together in an amazing explosion of sound.

Favorite Tracks:  The Foogy Set, 1st Class to Glasgow

#2  Rallion – One For Sorrow

The thing I love most about this group is that they play their hearts out on every track. The double fiddle lineup adds a wonderful complexity to their rich, charismatic sound. This is a splendid album of warm, gorgeous vocals and driving, exquisite tunes. Fiona Cuthill is, hands down, my favorite contemporary tune writer and Marieke McBean is my favorite traditional folk singer.

Favorite Tracks:  Waiting For Dawn, Cold Haily Windy Night, Fez

#1  Lauren MacColl – Strewn With Ribbons

There are few other fiddlers, if any, that can interpret slow airs as masterfully as Lauren. She somehow manages to crawl deep into the heart of the tune and make it her own. The results are devastatingly beautiful and emotional. After almost a year, this album still has the power to take my breath away. I would have no qualms about adding it to a “Top 10 of the Decade” list. It’s that good.

Favorite Tracks:  Lament For Mr. Thomas Grant, of Glen Elgin, Oigfhear A Chuil Duinn (Young Man of the Brown Hair), The Prophet

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November 29, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Donald Grant – “The Way Home”

Having traveled throughout the world, Donald Grant has taken all of those musical influences and blended them into a simmering fusion of world music on The Way Home. Around every corner is something different – flamenco, slow air, Mexican bolero, jazz – and through it all is Donald’s divine fiddling. Joining him on this adventure is a stellar cast of musicians, among them:  Catriona McKay, Seamus Egan, Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, and James MacIntosh.

Aside from performance and production, Donald’s tune writing talents are incredibly diverse and mature. The majority of the pieces on The Way Home are self-penned. The most poignant is the Gaelic-language lullaby “Tha Thu Daonnan Nam Smuain (You are always in my thoughts),” co-written with his father and sung by Karen Matheson. It is breathtakingly gorgeous and Karen’s vocals carry it deep into the heart. This gorgeousness is also found on “Chrissie’s”, a touching slow air written for his aunt. It begins gently with harp and fiddle before swelling into a crescendo of full strings. It then finishes as gently as it began.

Donald’s talents aren’t confined to slow pieces. “Reel Valencia” features rapid-fire fiddling over a flamenco rhythm, while “NZ 2004” is a funky, jazz-infused tune that commemorates a trip to New Zealand with friends. One of my favorites is “Rollerblade Reels,” a rollicking set that includes 2 puirt a beul (mouth music) tunes.

The two non-original pieces are worth mentioning here. The first is the stunning Highland slow air “An Gille Bàn (The Fair Haired Lad)”, also known as “An T-Iarla Diurach (The Earl of Jura)”. Donald’s rendition is exquisitely haunting and, for me personally, the highlight of the album. It is an amazing showcase of his virtuosity. The second piece is the Mexican bolero “Noche de Ronda,” a sultry torch song made more so by the smoldering vocals of Sally Doherty.

An old Gaelic proverb says, “The man who roamed furthest from home heard the sweetest music when he returned home.”  Donald Grant’s The Way Home is, indeed, the sweetest music.

To visit Donald’s official website, click here.

To visit Donald’s MySpace page, click here.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Jazz, Traditional | , , , , , | 1 Comment