Bringing something different to this year's homecoming celebrations, The Lassies' Reply is a contemporary interpretation of a selection of songs by Robert Burns. What makes this recording special, if not unique, is that Burns' work is performed in a combination of Sots and Gaelic, with Roderick Macdonald translating Burns' original words in to the Gaelic tongue. Pùr themselves are the Gaelic singer, Katie Mackenzie, and the fiddler and Scots singer Shona Donaldson, who can both lay claim to being amongst the brightest young talent on the Scottish traditional music scene. Both ladies have voices that possess an unending beauty, and their voices alone would make this recording an utter pleasure to listen to.
Adding much to the listening pleasure are the graceful arrangements and measured production work of Irvin Duguid, lending his customary distinguished feel to the overall sound, and deploying some of the best of Scotland's traditional music talent, who provide a replete and absorbing aural palette from which Duguid chooses so well.
Opening with "My Heart's In The Highlands," Katie and Shona exchange verses over a classy backdrop of strings, Irvin Duguid's piano, and the gorgeous clàrsach of Mary Ann Kennedy. This is a stylish, sumptuous arrangement, surpassed only by the chiming clarity of the vocals. But just as you might be thinking that the tone for the album is set with this opening number, Shona takes the lead on an inventive, upbeat rework of "John Anderson, My Jo," with John Goldie's nimble guitar being the perfect foil for James Mackintosh's pulsating percussion. There is a similarly dark, contemporary edge to "The Slaves' Lament," with a driving bass line that results in an enticingly catchy arrangement, and also boasts some undeniably cool harmonica playing.
Even Katie's Gaelic interpretation of "Ae Fond Kiss" (Aon Phòg Ghràidh) is delivered with a bold, carefree swing that rescues the song from the routine humdrum with which it is oft marred. There is a lively rebirth for the Scots/Gaelic fusion of "Green Grow The Rashes, O" (Chan eil ach cùram air gach làimh), that captures well the joyous spirit of Burns' lyrics, and Katie's beautifully lucid and intimate reading of "My Luv' Is Like A Red, Red Rose," exquisitely imparts the sentiments of a delicate romance.
Well, the girls have certainly done good! The Lassies' Reply is an album that draws together several strands of Scotland's rich traditions, and offers genuinely fresh interpretations of Burns' work, with a broad appeal. The accompanying publicity suggests that "if Robert Burns were alive in 2009, these are The Lassies he would be writing about." With beauty in such abundance, there are surely plenty of modern-day gentleman wordsmiths who'd be more than happy to oblige in Burns' absence.
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