Julie Fowlis

Gach Sgeul: Every Story

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This fourth album from Scottish Gaelic singer and multi-instrumentalist Julie Fowlis finds her riding the crest of a wave that peaked when she was chosen to sing the lead song in Disney-Pixar's blockbuster animated film Brave, thrusting her out of the folk music ghetto and onto the world stage. The success doesn't seem to have gone to her head, however. There has been no sellout; instead, she has quietly returned to the business of privately raising her family, and this album, recorded primarily in her home, was released once again on her own Machair label, with a minimum of promotional fuss. She could hardly be accused of resting on her laurels, however. Fowlis is first and foremost a student of song, a servant to the music, who will spend months trawling through archives and learning at the feet of the humblest housewife to discover rare and previously unrecorded gems to present to the world. This album is a little more subdued than her earlier efforts, with something of a melancholy bent, and consequently is perhaps slightly less immediately accessible and takes a few more spins to truly sink in. There is little in the way of percussion, and more slow songs, some featuring severely minimalist accompaniment, such as the heartbreaking "Do Chalum" and the chilling "Òran Fir Heisgeir," on which Fowlis is accompanied solely by strings and a harmonium, respectively. That said, the uptempo puirt-à-beul sets here are among the finest she has ever done: the lovely "Ribinnean Rìomhach" contains some gorgeous harmonies, and the fiery, mind-bendingly tongue-twisting "Fodar dha na Gamhna Beaga" builds to a frenzied tempo before coming to a dead stop. There are a couple of nice surprises in the instrumentation, like the aforementioned harmonium, a brief appearance by what sounds like a xylophone, and the almost avant-garde strings of Shetlander Jenna Reid's Rant. Without doubt the most beautiful song here is "An Roghainn," a poem written by Gaeldom's unofficial poet laureate Sorley MacLean and set to music by Capercaillie's Donald Shaw, which has swiftly become a beloved standard of the Gaelic folk repertoire. The midtempo numbers "Smeòrach Chlann Dòmhnaill" and "Siud Thu 'Ille Ruaidh Ghallain" are also worthy of particular note. Fowlis has long been prized for her angelic voice, sweet, clear, and pure as a Highland spring. She has spoken of how it has changed since bearing children, and this is apparent, although the change is not for the worse; it seems to have deepened very slightly, becoming if anything richer and fuller. Fowlis' craft was already like a finely honed gem when she first started out, so all there is for her to do is to further polish it, and turn it slightly to let the light gleam through new facets. She continues to go from strength to strength.

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