Rough Diamonds - Album Reviews

LIVING TRADITION
David Kidman

Any fan of Scottish folk music will be able to take comfort just from the billing of this new
album, for this combination of artists gives a true 100% guarantee of quality.  Reliability is
assured just at the mention of Alan’s faultless pedigree as musician and songwriter – not
least in his many years’ tenure with Battlefield Band – and Rob’s unshakeable reputation as
sympathetic musical partner and excellent engineer (rearrange those qualities in whatever order
you wish!). And what’s more, any music they produce is sufficiently easy on the ear and yet provides
more than enough in the way of subtlety to gently stimulate the listener’s sensitivities.

And so it proves with their latest offering, which mixes Reid originals with some absolutely prime choices
from contemporary folk song. The five Reid originals all have in common the enviable qualities of
singability and catchy choruses, but they also have substance and originality amidst their accessibility
and memorability – what a gifted songwriter Alan is! These five contrasted songs are cannily dispersed
throughout the disc for maximum effect and each is blessed with a skilled musical arrangement that fully
complements the mood and style of the lyric. Two of them are concerned with local industry (Barrels
Of Gold deals with Wick’s whisky distillery and decline in herring fishing, while the disc’s title song’s
looks back nostalgically at Lothian’s once-thriving coal industry). Then there’s a wistful, reflective portrait
of the charming village of Carradale, the stirring narrative of The Orcadian (aka John Rae, Hudson Bay
Company doctor and explorer) and the rollicking tale of Mad Maggie Murchieson and the “wee devils”.
Even among these gems, however, the album’s centrepiece is a standout track: Roslin Castle, an instrumental
piece by 18th century Scottish composer James Oswald, blessed with a truly lovely arrangement. Finally to
the covers: for a start there’s John Conolly’s outstandingly evocative Passing Places, which is complemented
by top-notch renditions by Alan and Rob of two cornerstones of my own repertoire, Last Trip Home (jointly
penned by Reid’s former colleagues Steele and McCusker), and Paul Metsers’ classic Farewell To The Gold.
Ted Edwards’ potent imagined dialogue between The Coal & Albert Berry also comes off well here.  The
disc’s lone Robbie Burns number, Red Red Rose, is included for its status as favourite in the duo’s live performances.

Anything to criticise? Well, perhaps Rout Of The Blues doesn’t quite stir the blood for those of us
used to the Dransfields’ benchmark account, but that’s only in comparison with the excellence of the
preceding 11 tracks! Oh, but before signing off this review I must give honourable mention to the selective
but entirely apposite guest contributions from fellow-musicians John Martin (octave fiddle, cello) and Stewart
Forbes (tenor sax), which dovetail so well with Rob’s extensive multi-instrumental prowess and Alan’s ever-skilled
keyboard work. What a fine record; and one that just has to be heartily recommended.

 

 

UK FOLK MUSIC
Alan Morley

The new CD from Alan Reid and Rob Van Sante falls into the familiar territory which once belonged to
the Battlefield Band and followers of the band and of this duo will not be disappointed by ‘Rough Diamonds‘.

The album is packed with some great songs which immediately seem to resonate with some distant
memory of songs you heard and loved years ago. The simple approach and skillful presentation
encourages the listener to relax and let the songs wash over them.

The third track is a song by Alan Reid called ‘Barrels of Gold’ features a really easy singalong chorus which
is bound to be a favourite. Although possibly my choice would be ‘Albert Berry’, a song about the perils
of being a coal miner torn between the conflict facing the dangers working underground and earning a wage.

If for no other reason, I would have bought the CD for the mere fact that one of the tracks is an instrumental
called ‘Roslin Castle’. A wonderfully haunting tune which is played with a beautiful arrangement in which the duo
are joined by musician John Martin on cello. A special mention for Stewart Forbes on tenor sax on the
excellent ‘The Orcadian’.

For me the CD grew in stature on the second listening, when I must have had more time to appreciate the
quality of the song writing and the construction of the playlist. Highly recommended.

For listeners who love their folk music to be easy listening, traditionally based with imaginative ‘story telling’
lyrics and strong melodies – Rough Diamonds is an essential purchase.

 

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