Words by Robin Denselow
On which Gaelic songs meet African and Indian music
Karen Matheson’s first solo album of exclusively Gaelic songs is remarkable for its unexpected and surprising musical settings. Matheson has long been recognised as one of Scotland’s finest singers, thanks largely to her work with the group Capercaillie. Her husband and long-term colleague in the band Donald Shaw (also celebrated for his Celtic Connections work, of course) is the producer here, and plays piano and accordion. There’s no novelty in all-Gaelic albums these days, thanks to the great Julie Fowlis, but Shaw guarantees that this is very different to any of Fowlis’ albums. It starts with a waulking song (a work song, traditionally sung by women as they beat tweed) with backing provided by piano and fiddle from that fine multi-instrumentalist Matheu Watson.
Then the surprises start. The second waulking song is given an African flavour thanks to delicate kora (harp-lute) work from Seckou Keita. Then there’s a Scottish reel with an Indian edge, featuring the sarod (Indian lute) of Soumik Datta, who also plays on the charming and drifting final love song. Elsewhere, the backing includes a string quartet, who feature in Shaw’s setting for an African lament on death and famine, and bluesy guitar on a satirical song from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. An adventurous, classy set.