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Eddi Reader Sings The Songs Of Robert Burns Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

On this evidence it'll be a long (or should that be lang?) time before Reader and her...

Chris Jones 2003

Eddi Reader's voice is an undeniably awesome thing. Her ability to swoop, soar and generally take your breath away has been a proven fact since Fairground Attraction's First Of A Million Kisses in 1988. Yet attempting new interpretations of the work of Scotland's greatest bard may be, to some of you, a step too far. Is it merely an exercise in trying to prove the old cliche about singing the phone book and making it sound wonderful? Surely old Rabbie just wrote corny stuff about mice and haggises? Well, wrong and wrong again. For Reader wants the world to rediscover what most residents of Scotland's West coast have known for three centuries. Burns wrote a top lyric and his words, filtered through Eddi's lovely larynx, again, come to life on this release.

Sure enough the usual classics are revisited. ''My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose'', ''Auld Lang Syne'' and ''Charlie Is My Darling'' all get a dusting down; but with a band and arrangements as good as this, it's like listening to a brand new repertoire. Ably abetted by her usual band and featuring the awesome fiddle of John McCusker and the lush orchestral arrangements of Kevin McRae, Reader has reached a logical point in a career that's gradually moved nearer to pure folk with every release. In her voluminous sleeve notes she contextualises the project by recounting how her move from the urban sprawl of Glasgow to the Ayrshire town of Irvine brought Burns' magic to her attention.

The delicate acoustic backings focus the mind on Burns' words. It's the universality of his messages that Eddi's attempting to convey here. The bawdy ''Brose And Butter''; the declaration of lasting devotion ''John Anderson My Jo''; and the call for political moderation and peace ''Ye Jacobites'' - all have a contemporary relevance. And as John McCusker says in his commentary, it's in no way in danger of being ''dead posh''.

If there's a reservation it's in the somewhat cloying nature of the strings of the RSNO. Yet this is a small gripe in the face of such a fresh look at a man's work that's justly celebrated every 25th of January north of the border. Interestingly the finest moment arrives with the song ''Wild Mountainside'' which isn't actually by Burns at all, but by the Trash Can Sinatras' John Douglas. It's included to demonstrate how the poet's muse lives on in Scotland to this day. On this evidence it'll be a long (or should that be lang?) time before Reader and her friends lose their inspiration.

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