Julie Fowlis,
Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe
(As My Heart Is)

(Macmeanmna, 2005)

Julie Fowlis is the latest in a long line of female Gaelic singers and, with her solo debut Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe (As My Heart Is), she carries the tradition beautifully. Her voice is well suited to the material and she breathes new life into some very old songs with innovative arrangements.

The 12 tracks focus heavily on the Gaelic music of Fowlis's native Uist, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Fowlis is more commonly known as an instrumentalist with Scottish group Dochas, but with this recording, shows that her vocal talents are definitely the equal of her instrumental prowess, which she highlights with three tracks on the album.

Moving through a variety of tempos and styles, Fowlis takes us on a veritable musical tour of Gaelic song. Ballads, spinning songs, puirt a beul, love songs and songs of loss are all to be found. Fowlis excels on the slower tracks, her voice flowing along the wonderful, traditional tunes. She is no slouch at faster tunes and her puirt a beul rivals many of the more established Gaelic singers, but the laments are where she really shines. The arrangements are gentle and complement Fowlis's lovely voice.

John McCusker joins on fiddle and viola, Ingrid Henderson on clarsach, John Doyle on guitar and Martin O'Neill on bodhran, among others. Backing vocals are used sparingly, accentuating some songs, particularly the call-and-response type, but often the music is left to Fowlis with only subtle backing harmonies.

Fowlis can also hold her own as an instrumentalist, as the three tracks featuring her whistles are energetic and show her talents in that area as well. They also serve to break up the songs a bit.

Fowlis has included both the Gaelic lyrics and English translations, along with notes on the origins of each of the pieces. Her attention to detail, in the arrangements and in the overall presentation, adds greatly to the enjoyment of this well-crafted album. As many of these songs are drawn from a very specific musical tradition, most of them are less well known. Fowlis has chosen songs that suit her and her arrangements, allowing her to express herself fully in a language many of her listeners will not understand.

Fowlis's voice is very beautiful; not overpoweringly strong, but certainly not weak, gentle, but not fragile. It is simply one of the best new voices in Gaelic music. Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe is an essential album for any lover of Gaelic or Scottish music. Julie Fowlis's star is definitely on the rise and I am already looking forward to her second solo album.

by Jean Emma Price
10 December 2005

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