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Julie Fowlis Live at Perthshire Amber Review

Live. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Reassuringly relaxed and refreshingly gimmick-free live LP from the Scottish singer.

Colin Irwin 2011

Live albums tend to be pretty ropey and, more often than not, produced within an inch of their lives, touched up in the studio with additional instrumentation and technical trickery flattening the sound to such a degree the term ‘live’ is utterly negated.

This beguiling album is the antithesis of such charmlessness – a laid-back, deceptively simple collection which shows the honest craft of Julie Fowlis and her joyful acoustic band in all their persuasive intimacy. It was recorded on the opening night of Perthshire Amber in 2010, an annual festival run by singer songwriter Dougie MacLean, who makes a guest appearance duetting with Fowlis on a gorgeous Anglo/Gaelic dual language version of his song Pabay Mòr.

We get introductions, audience applause and some mesmerising interplay between the musicians (Eamon Doorley on bouzouki, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, Tony Byrne on guitar and Martin O’Neill on bodhran). Between them, the players and onlookers emanate all the warmth and sense of wonder of what sounds like an extremely cosy night in the Highlands.

Fowlis is a remarkable success story, emerging from remote North Uist in the Western Isles to make it all the way to major European concert halls and the Radio 2 playlist, winning armfuls of awards en route, while still singing almost exclusively in Gaelic. Anyone puzzling how she managed to break into the charts with a Gaelic language version of The Beatles’ Blackbird will get a good idea listening to her sing Blackbird (or to give its new title, Lon-Dubh) here over Byrne’s intricate guitar accompaniment and Chisholm’s lonesome fiddle.

This stripped-down state, in fact, represents the true essence of the Fowlis appeal. She’s a beautiful singer, but there are plenty of those around and on its own this is never enough; but in conveying the gentle control she exudes on her audience delivering a chorus song like Biodh An Deoch Seo ‘N Là Mo Rùin we get a clearer picture of what lifts her apart from the crowd.

Amid spritely tune sets, a mournful Breton song and the occasional unaccompanied burst, it’s reassuringly relaxed and refreshingly gimmick-free. New converts can start here.

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