Album Review: Various Artists – Songs of Separation

songsseparationThe concept was conjured up by double bass player Jen Hill around the time of the Scottish independence referendum, when she herself was touring much of England and not able to be at her Scottish home. With the separation idea based around that core event in the first instance – as the project grew and musicians added, the themes around ‘separation’ also grew to become an all encompassing collection on the subject.

And what a collection of artists this project attracted. Folk royalty interspersed with the finest young talent and most prolific instrumentalists. Eliza Carthy, Karine Polwart, Hazel Askew, Mary Macmaster, Hannah James, Jenn Butterworth, Kate Young, Rowan Rheingans and Hannah Read all joining Jen. Summer 2015 and this incredible collection of musicians descended on the tiny Scottish Isle of Eigg to rehearse and record the album.

The result is a one off collection of great songs and great playing – with the subject matter never too far away. By no means a one after the another collection with each showcasing themselves once – there is much collaboration here, which immediately makes the record feel whole.

Highlights include the pulsating The Poor Man’s Lamentation or Equality And Love’, collected by Hannah James and indeed performed by her, backed by pacy guitar, doubled-up violins and including interesting musical breaks before kicking back in that gives the track a real intensity.

”s Muladach Mi ‘s Mi Air M’aineoil’ (‘Sad Am I And In A Strange Place’) is an old Waulking song collected by Mary Macmaster and tells of a family separated from their normal way of life. This has a chant like quality about it, which keeps the track very percussive.

‘Unst Boat Song’ is one of two acapella pieces that utilise the rich vocal ability of the group. The song was recorded in Eigg’s cathedral cave which gives the track incredible ambience. The song is about a fishing community, and the separation when the men are at sea.

Many more highlights are had here – Eliza’s own composition based on personal circumstance, Karine Polwarts track to open the record that sounds derived from an old work song, and performed as such. There is so much good stuff here.

As said above, this collaboration is touring, and no doubt well worth seeing. Getting this many high calibre musicians together can surely not be an easy task – and if this is to be a one off, they have done an excellent job with it.

The Echo Mocks The Corncrake / It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King single is available on iTunes:

Review by Phil Daniels

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