Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

Fiona Cuthill & Stevie Lawrence – “A Cruel Kindness”

Fiona Cuthill and Stevie Lawrence have been musical partners for a long time, working together in such bands as Whirligig, Canterach, and Rallion, among others.  A Cruel Kindness is their first album as a duo and is a mixture of old friends and new acquaintances. Those familiar with the duo’s work with Rallion will recognize a few of the tracks, which have appeared previously on Rallion’s albums. Here, however, they are given a fresh start with new arrangements and guest musicians.  The melancholy of “Waiting for Dawn” is lightened by Fraser Speirs’ harmonica and Brendan McCreanor helps turn “Back on Track” into an all-out jam.

The real gems of this album, though, are the new compositions. Fiona Cuthill is a truly gifted composer.  Even simply-arranged tunes have an underlying depth and complexity to them.  They have that indefinable thing that commands attention and, at times, takes one’s breath away.  Stevie Lawrence helps bring those tunes to life with his virtuosity, whether on guitar or bouzouki.  Their long partnership has allowed them to really explore the nuances in their music. Together, they create a magic that is greater than the sum of their parts.

The jigs and reels allow them to stretch their legs and hint at their love of rock music.  “Andy D’s Reel” from “The Seven Sisters” set is a rollicking, toe-tapping reel and though “One for Brendan” from “Unfinished Business” may have failed as a pipe tune, it’s a fantastic fiddle tune and features truly top notch fiddling.  However, it is the title track, “A Cruel Kindness,” that is worth the cost of the album alone.  Opening with the sublime harp of Rachel Hair, the throatiness of Cuthill’s fiddle takes the listener on an emotional journey into that well of sadness and hurt created by unintentional words and acts.

A Cruel Kindness is an outstanding debut that shines the spotlight on Cuthill and Lawrence’s abounding musical talent.

To visit Fiona & Stevie’s Facebook page, click here.

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September 21, 2011 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Traditional | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

A Retro Look

As I’ve been doing some preliminary pondering of my Top 10 Albums of 2009 (which will be published at the end of the year), I realized that there were also a number of albums I heard for the first time this year but that were released prior to 2009. Some are more recent releases and some are rather old. A few of those albums really blew me away, so I’ve decided to give them a shout-out. After all, it’s never too late to discover “new” music!

This list is not in a particular order.

Archie McAllister – A Fiddler’s Tapestry. Ok, this first one is a bit of a trick. This actually was released in 2009 but it’s a compilation of older material, therefore I thought it better suited here. I hadn’t really listened to the west coast fiddling style before this and I quite like it. His slow airs made my mouth drop open.

Check out the tracks “Ossian” and “Lachlan Dubh”.

Gjermund Larsen Trio – Ankomst. Norwegian fiddler with a slow, sultry jazz style. Absolutely delicious! And it’s definitely chill music. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.

Check out the tracks “Midnattsdrøm” and “Regntung Dag”.

Rallion – For No-One and Everyone. I still can’t get enough of this album! This is their debut release. Marieke McBean’s voice is to die for and the fiddle work takes my breath away!

It’s really hard to narrow it down to a couple, but check out the tracks “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” and “Fisherman’s Wife”.

Fiona Driver – Orkney Fire. Very talented young fiddler from Orkney who is also a prolific tune writer. Of the various styles I’ve heard, this reminds me the most of America’s Appalachian music, which has its roots deep in Scottish music. It’s a gorgeous album!

Check out the tracks “Fidgarth Fiddles” and “Graham In A Tent”.

Synnøve Rognlien – Undr. Synnøve has created an Avant-garde, lush aural tapestry of song and sound. Gregorian chant sits side by side with jazz & electronica and the result is intoxicating!

Check out the tracks “Det Røde” and “Serk”.

Le Vent du Nord – Dans les airs. Until giving them a listen, I hadn’t realized how similar Quebecois music was to Breton music, especially with the call & response songs. This is a fantastic album full of hot instrumentals and great songs. High energy!

Check out the tracks “La Piastre Des États” and “Les Larmes Aux Yeux”.

Fridarey – Across The Waters. Lise Sinclair, a member of this family group, has a stunning voice and is the reason I got this album (she also has her own solo recording out).

Check out the tracks “Day Dawn” and “Wild White Swan”.

Whirligig – Celtic Dawn. This is the oldest album in the list, released back in 1995, but I’m still just as amazed by it. It’s early music meets Celtic music, with jazz elements thrown in for good measure. The recorder & fiddle work of Fiona & Jenny Cuthill is sublime!

Check out the tracks “Aisleag Ur” and “Roslin Castle” (one of my favorite arrangements of this tune).

Yvonne Lyon – Fearless. This is Yvonne’s second album, which was released a few years ago, and it is an excellent showcase of her exquisite songwriting skills. There’s something about this album, even in the darker, more emotionally intense songs, that is uplifting.

Check out the tracks “Come” and “Love”.

Gordon Gunn – Shoreside. He’s a recent find for me, thanks to a suggestion from a friend, but I was wowed from the get-go. His fast sets are amazing but his slow airs are divine! They stopped me in my tracks.

Check out the tracks “Orkney” and “Hogties Reel/Wooden Whale”.


All of these albums can be found either at Music in Scotland, Amazon, or iTunes.

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Avant-Garde, Celtic, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rallion – “One For Sorrow”

rallion

Rallion’s sophomore release, One For Sorrow, is a dazzling display of musicality by the Scotland-based traditional folk quartet.  The members of Rallion are prolific performers and the skills honed on stages around the world shine on this recording. Featuring a mix of traditional songs and mostly original tunes, One For Sorrow has a deliciously exciting feel.

Marieke McBean’s rich alto marries perfectly with the material, whether conveying the dark humor of “The Astrologer,” the poignancy of “Lassie Lie Near Me,” or the good cheer of the Dutch drinking song “Wat Zullen We Drinken” (What Will We Drink). The instrumentation accompanying each song is truly splendid, creating an aural luxuriance that reaches the listener on all levels.

The crème de la crème of One For Sorrow, however, are the tunes, the majority composed by the group’s tunesmiths: Stevie Lawrence, Fiona Cuthill and Andrew Lyons. Not only are the compositions exquisite, their execution is phenomenal. All of the members of Rallion are multi-instrumentalists, lending an incredible depth and texture to each piece. The highlights are “Askival,” an energetic set of tunes by Andrew, “Fez,” an exotically flavored set by Fiona and Stevie, and, my personal favorite, “Waiting For Dawn,” a gorgeously evocative slow tune by Fiona.

One For Sorrow is a brilliant album that will leave you hungering for more.

To learn more about Rallion, visit their official website or their MySpace page.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk, Traditional | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment