Archie Fisher,
The Man with a Rhyme
(Folk Legacy: 1976, 1997, 2000)

A great side effect of the 1990s boom in Celtic music has been the gradual re-release of recordings which otherwise might have been lost to obscurity. One such re-release, from the archives at Folk-Legacy, is Archie Fisher's The Man with a Rhyme.

Fisher is certainly remembered and revered as one of the great Scottish folksingers and songwriters of the 1970s. And this album is a pleasant reminder of where this current craze began. There aren't any frills here -- no bagpipes crashing into electric guitars, no synthesized sound enhancements, no fusions or stage-show glitzes. It's just Fisher's voice and his guitar, accentuated at times by a small band of additional musicians: Kathy Westra on cello, Lani Herrmann on fiddle, Ann Mayo Muir on flute, Lorraine Lee on dulcimer and Wendy Grossman on banjo.

The album gives Fisher's straightforward treatment to several traditional songs as well as a few he wrote himself (and which have gone on to become part of the folk music canon). For the traditionals, he draws on Jacobite history for "Twa Bonnie Maidens" and "Welcome, Royal Charlie," as well as long-popular ballads including "Queen Amang the Heather," the melancholy drinking song "Jock Stewart," "The Echo Mocks the Corncrake," "Upstairs and Downstairs" and "The Cruel Brother."

The first Fisher original on The Man with a Rhyme is "Dark Eyed Molly," based on a few lines of Gaelic poetry and the tune of a Basque lullaby. The slow ballad is on a pair of favorite Gaelic themes: unrequited love and strong drink. Next is a Fisher classic, "The Witch of the West-mer-lands," a grand narrative ballad about a wounded knight who seeks a magical healing for his deadly injuries. Less well known is "Western Island," a lovely "combination of partially fulfilled pipedreams" about a simple life with simple needs.

Another notable song is "The Wounded Whale," drawn from the logs of whaling ships in the 1860s. It's a vivid, compassionate and poetic description of a whale's final struggle in the sea. Fisher also gives a tender voice to Stewart MacGregor's "Coshieville," about a man who follows his ambition and loses his heart.

There are 15 tracks and all, and not a wasted moment among them. This is an excellent collection of Fisher at the peak of the balladeer's art; if you've a fondness for a well-told tale and a well-sung song, this one's for you.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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