The popular American image of Scottish music is usually based upon wheezing, droning bagpipes played by armies of red-faced, hairy-kneed guys in kilts. But there is actually an embarrassment of riches available from the region, encompassing everything from a Gaelic a cappella style called puirt-a-beul (mouth music) to modern neo-folk musicians, traveling Gypsy singers, staid fiddle orchestras, and much more. The tunes on Heart of Scotland: Collection of Gaelic Songs were culled from the catalog of Scotland's highly respected Greentrax label, and they are well-chosen, varied, and of uniformly high quality. Scottish musical traditions and their version of the Gaelic language are most closely related to those of Ireland and the Isle of Man rather than the Welsh, Cornish, and Breton strains, but with several striking differences. Even a casual listener, with a bit of study, can easily differentiate between the music of Ireland and Scotland, and this compilation is a great place to start. The journey begins with Catherine-Ann MacPhee's bewitching puirt-a-beul, a set of vocal dances that establishes the prevailing mood of Eldritch enchantments. Modern bands like the Peatbog Faeries and Seelyhoo provide an additional edginess and a touch of sardonic humor. Other highlights include Tony McManus' powerful yet delicate solo guitar, the Boys of the Lough's fiddle and pipe-led dance tunes, Deaf Shepherd's Scandinavian-sounding fiddles, and Donald Black's harmonica interpretations of bagpipe airs. Another find is the female vocal duo of Janet Russell and Christine Kydd, two dulcet altos who croon like a pair of wood doves.
AllMusic Review by Christina Roden