I've written a few words about each album -- sometimes I've said all I wanted in my review, but in other instances there are thoughts that have occurred to me since writing the review. If you click on the artist's names then you will be taken to their website. If you click on the album titles, you will be taken to my original review.
It was in January this year that I first heard Fiona Mackenzie's début solo album, Elevate, and I was immediately gripped by this wonderful recording. The lyrical simplicity of Fiona's writing belies a warm and undeniably moving sentiment throughout, and there is a fragility in Fiona's voice that you can't help but fall for. Calum Malcolm's exquisite production inevitably lifts the album beyond the ordinary, with some inspired arrangements and an ethereal soundscape that draws you in to a world that boasts both comfort and eeriness. Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball album, produced by the equally adept Daniel Lanois, is one of Fiona's favourite albums, and with Elevate, Fiona has her very own Wrecking Ball -- the sound being every bit as challenging, the totality being every bit as awe-inspiring. In my review I said that Elevate "has album of the year written all over it," and I still stand by this remark -- in fact I won't hesitate to tell you that Elevate IS without a doubt my favourite album of 2008! I really can't encourage you enough to make this wonderful discovery for yourself!
For Edwina Hayes' second album, it was an inspired choice to go back to basics with a stripped-back acoustic sound. Pour Me A Drink is all the better for this, providing the perfect setting for you to appreciate the emotional delicacies of Edwina's heart-wrenching writing and the sweetest of voices that acts as a constant reminder that Edwina only ever writes and sings straight from the heart.
Mabon are led by the talented Welsh accordion player, Jamie Smith, who composed all eight tracks on their latest release, OK Pewter. This is an exciting marriage of Celtic and European influences that results in an album of infectious flamboyance. It's really is great fun!
Krista Detor was a new name to me this year, and it's a name and voice that I'll never forget. Close Their Eyes defies categorisation, which means that Detor has her work cut out finding an audience, though I defy anybody not be seduced by her sultry tones and relaxed delivery. Krista brings together traces of the lyrical kookiness of Suzanne Vega with the heartfelt soul of Natalie Merchant, yet manages to be very much her own woman.
I've been aware of Johnny Duhan's songs, largely through the repertoire of successful Irish artists who have astutely chosen to cover his songs. Just Another Town is noteworthy for the title track alone -- a personal homage to a home town that manages to be both introspective and panoramic. Duhan speaks of life in a way that manages to be intensely personal yet almost universally applicable. For me, listening to Johnny's songs is never a passive experience.
Primary Transmission is the album that took me most by surprise this year. Musically, it couldn't be further away from anything that I would usually listen to, yet at it's soul was something that I could hold very dear. Broadcaster took excerpts from the original Radio Ballads of the 1950s and 1960s and wove them into some thoroughly modern dance beats and grooves. The result is a mesmerising collision between voices and values of an almost forgotten yesteryear, with the bold, anarchic sounds of contemporary disarray -- nothing short of breathtaking!
Corrina Hewat crafted an album of great intensity with Harp I Do, an album of largely self-penned, contemporary, solo harp music. It's not just the performance of the music here that makes this album so special and so intense, the manner in which the album was recorded contributes greatly. As the listener, you're not detached from this recording, it's as if you're stood alongside Corrina whilst she's playing -- you don't just hear the melody, you actually hear Corrina playing the melody, and it's being able to witness the intimacy between the musician and the instrument that generates such intensity.
You're unlikely to encounter many more Gaelic singers with the authenticity of Margaret Stewart, and although authenticity alone would not necessarily make for a great album, Margaret deploys her undeniable credibility in some fittingly beautiful musical surroundings on Togaidh Mì Mo Sheolta. Each note is sung with utmost grace and accompanied by the most sublime instrumentation, to give a recording that is as gracious as the swan that adorns the album's artwork.
Dual is an exciting project that brings together two musicians from Ireland: Éamon Doorley and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, with two musicians from Scotland: Julie Fowlis and Ross Martin. These four musicians represent the finest young musicians working in traditional music and together they explore the Gaelic languages and musical cultures of their native lands. As well as being an endeavour packed with interest and intrigue, Dual stands proud as an accomplished recording that is an absolute joy to listen to, illuminating some less well-known similarities and disparities between these ancient cultures.
Water & Light heralds the arrival of an impressive song-writing talent in the shape of Ireland's Gareth Davies-Jones. With an ability to articulate insightful social commentary, romanticise about seemingly inert objects, and importantly weave a great story, Gareth appears to have all the right ingredients at his fingertips. Water & Light combines these ingredients within folk-tinged, pop-flavoured arrangements that never detract from the earnestness of the lyric, and importantly hold a broad appeal with potential to reach far and wide.
Patsy Reid has created a remarkably mature and complete piece of work with Bridging The Gap, bringing together her love and understanding of classical and traditional music in an assembly of compositions that are certain to catapult Patsy to the upper echelons of Scotland's most celebrated musicians. I have no doubt that Bridging The Gap will in time prove to be a landmark recording that will see Patsy command the same reverence as such notable musical luminaries as Shaun Davey or Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin.
There are of course a good number of great albums that I've not had the chance to review that would certainly have made it on to this list: Capercaillie's Roses & Tears, Karine Polwart's This Earthly Spell and Bob Dylan's Tell Tale Signs are three that immediately spring to mind.
So, here's to 2009, and the prospect of more excellent music ahead -- particularly those surprises and happy little accidents!j