Claire Hastings - Those Who Roam (2019)

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Claire Hastings - Those Who Roam (2019)

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EAC Rip | FLAC (tracks+log+.cue) | 00:40:30 | 219 Mb
Folk, Female Vocal | Label: Luckenbooth Records

An album of folk songs that embraces the theme of travel and journeys seems entirely appropriate. So much of our traditional song has travelled all around our islands, and far beyond, it makes perfect sense to collate some of those where the characters who populate the stories are on the move. Scots singer/song writer Claire Hastings has done just that, in Those Who Roam.

With a core band of the highest calibre and Inge Thomson in the producer’s chair, Those Who Roam is an album as sharp as the swishing scythes that punctuate the album’s opening track – The Lothian Hairst. Claire’s lilting Doric floats above the steady bass rhythm of Jenn Butterworth’s guitar for a song that celebrates the 19th Century harvest gangs that would sail from Aberdeenshire to the south, then follow the harvest work all the way north again. The highly atmospheric approach to the song, and the album as a whole, features the distinctive sound of Laura Wilkie’s fiddle, Thomas Gibbs’ sparse piano and a steady accordion drone from Andrew Wait.

The release of Claire’s acclaimed 2016 debut album, Between River And Railway (reviewed here) followed her success as BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2015, and confirmed Claire as a writer and performer willing to infuse her approach to song with a sense of adventure. Since then she’s continued to follow her passion for music in education throughout Scotland, including Feis Rois’ Youth Music Initiative, The Gaitherin’ (Aberdeenshire) and Feis an Iar Dheas (Dumfries). As well as successfully taking on an acting role, in the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe show ‘A Man’s a Man’ about the life of Robert Burns, Claire has also performed and recorded as a member of Top Floor Taivers, who released their debut album, A Delicate Game, last year (reviewed here). Working alongside singer Robyn Stapleton and group Aonach Mòr, Claire continues to promote the therapeutic value of song among a number of community groups supporting infant education, teenagers in care and the elderly; with the charity Live Music Now Scotland.

Continuing to make her mark as a recording artist, though, is clearly something that has remained on Claire’s to-do list; and among this carefully crafted collection of familiar, and less well-known, ballads, her own compositions are ample evidence that she can write a story as effectively as she can sing one. Fair Weather Beggar is Claire’s own tale of an Edinburgh busker who revels in his antipathy towards the vagaries of the city’s climate. With soft-paced guitar and accordion to open, it isn’t long before Jenn’s guitar begins to drive the pace. By the first chorus, Laura’s fiddle fair dances along, and Andrew’s accordion seems to relish Claire’s care-free ‘Falada-n-dee’.

Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian, and the real-life character he based the story on, was the inspiration for Claire’s Noble Helen of Cluden. A stand-out example of the intricate, yet seemingly effortless, arrangements devised for Those Who Roam; from a mysterious opening the song comes to life with atmospheric fiddle and accordion, amid complex piano and guitar accompaniment. It’s also a stand-out example of Claire’s ability as a song writer, and serves as confirmation that new, memorable, ballads are still being written.

There’s plenty to enjoy among the album’s traditional ballads too, though. Claire claims a local (Dumfries) connection for the origin of Seven Gypsies. While some versions link to a story from Ayrshire, others from Aberdeen, this is about as well-travelled as a song can get; but on Those Who Roam, Claire and crew still manage to craft a memorable rendition. Layers of Andrew’s accordion lead the way, the fiddle/accordion bridge is exciting and uplifting, and Claire’s vocal injects a sense of mischievous joy in ‘awa wi the seven gypsies oh’. Hot on the heels of Seven Gypsies, Sailin’s A Weary Life is an equally well-travelled classic. Clearly displaying some of Inge’s enterprising touches as producer, initially the vocal is accompanied only by an ethereal strum of piano strings and accordion drones. Guitar begins to temper the sound, and calms the piano towards a more melodic approach before taking command; in a song that, despite its gentle pace, displays no lack of drama. A similarly gentle pace for Jamie Raeburn makes the most of Claire’s voice and the elegant instrumentation that graces this album. Piano and fiddle are both rich and plaintive, perfectly balanced, as the tale of the young baker falsely accused of theft, and transported, is sung with a heavy heart, just as it should be.

Logie O’ Buchan is an absolute charmer of a rich lass/poor lad love story, with a slowly building lavishness to the sound and exquisite layers of fiddle in the bridge. Jack the Sailor offers an irresistible sing-along where that same fiddle provides the initial driving rhythm, before adding harmonies above the perfectly-paced guitar and accordion, and layers of Claire’s clear, lilting voice. Claire’s added verses twist the tail towards a happy, adventurous conclusion. King of California sets a jaunty pace for a tale from the Californian Gold Rush, and Thomas’ piano provides some suitably Transatlantic accompaniment that, while uplifting among soaring fiddle, is contrasted by the harsh realities of the subject’s life.

The moderately structured layers of vocal provided by Claire throughout the album come to the fore in the closing track. Ten Thousand Miles is a Somerset song that travelled far enough to influence Robert Burns, and Claire delivers an all but unaccompanied rendition where the song expands from a single voice to beautiful four-part harmonies.

Each individual element of this album is worthy of praise in its own right. Guitar, fiddle, accordion and piano provide pace or pathos in exactly the right measure, Inge Thomson’s production delivers an inventive finish, and, of course, Claire’s clear and inviting vocal shines throughout. This is far more than a vehicle for that fine voice, though. It’s a collection where new work stands side-by-side with traditional songs that, while immediately familiar, are still capable of inspiring a new and imaginative approach. Those Who Roam is a shining example of the enduring appeal of traditional songs, and of Claire Hastings’ exceptional talent for delivering them.

1. The Lothian Hairst (04:44)
2. Jack the Sailor (03:50)
3. Seven Gypsies (03:33)
4. Sailin's a Weary Life (04:16)
5. Fair Weather Beggar (04:28)
6. Logie o' Buchan (04:16)
7. Noble Helen of Cluden (04:17)
8. Jamie Raeburn (04:15)
9. King of California (04:00)
10. Ten Thousand Miles (02:53)

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