Dick Gaughan, |
Displaying surety in his song styling and interpretational ability, Dick Gaughan's latest release is an eclectic mix of mostly Celtic compositions, including two of his own, and a few songs from American songwriters. His talent of blending delicate verses and tunes, with his trademark passionate, snarling grit, gets put to the full test here, and he carries it off seamlessly.
Never straying too long or far from his working class roots or political leitmotif, he revisits familiar territory and engages the discerning listener with "Gone, Gonna Rise Again," "Ewan and the Gold," "Why Old Men Cry," "Thomas Muir of Huntershill," "Reconciliation" and "All the King's Horses." He covers Brian McNeil's masterpiece "Muir and the Master Builder" as only a fellow Scotsman could, and even throws in a better-than-the-original "Let It Be Me," an old Everly Brothers tune.
Performing "Muir and the Master Builder" with both fervor and snap, Gaughan pays tribute to the bittersweet life of John Muir, the man most instrumental in cajoling and convincing the United States government to develop the National Parks system, and Yosemite National Park in particular. Containing captivating imagery and poignancy, this composition should become one of Scotland's anthems. The spare "Gone, Gonna Rise Again," a Si Kahn-penned tune seemingly about the hardscrabble life of Appalachian residents and their roots to the land, has applicability to anywhere. This applicability provocatively includes the Scots, especially those forcibly moved during the Highland clearances, and their ties to the land. Gaughan sings in the last verse:
I think of my people that have gone on
Like a tree that grows in the mountain ground
The storms of life have cut them down
But the new wood springs from the root underground."
"Reconciliation," subtly performed with acoustic guitar, is especially timely. Metaphorically describing the Catholic and Protestant factions in Ireland in the guise of two lovers, Gaughan sings:
As the sun will melt the snow on clear bright April mornings
Our fight has run its course, now's the time for healing
So let us both embrace sweet reconcilation."
Gaughan's "Why Old Men Cry" twines the experiences of soldiers in World War I with the economic and social upheavals caused by the disappearance of so many manufacturing and coal mining jobs in Scotland. Gaughan notes "a certain sorrowful look in the eyes of men who had been in World War I" and "I have observed the same in the eyes of old men witnessing the decimation of industrial employment." His use of the piano and electric guitar have an especially good effect in this surprisingly low key tale.
"Thomas Muir of Huntershill," an anthem to human rights, concerns the trial and subsequent conviction of this human rights martyr of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Written by Adam McNaughton, this is one of the most powerful selections on this release.
Brian McNeil's wonderful "Ewan and the Gold" tells the story of a man from St. Kilda who followed his dream to find his fortune in the Californian gold fields. However, as Gaughan sings:
Could not buy him peace or freedom
From the memory of the sound
Of the waves on St. Kilda's rocky shore...."
So Ewan, drawn to his roots, eventually returns to live out his life on St. Kilda. However, scorned now by the residents and finding he is no longer "part of the fold," he departs St. Kilda for good. The irony of this account is that his success becomes part of the island folklore.
Another strong cut is Gaughan's "All the King's Horses." Augmented with electric guitar, Gaughan offers a payback to the rule of Thatcher, Major and the Tories:
Now you're all alone and it's closing time
Nobody left now to keep you safe
From the angry mob tearing down your gate
You never believed it could happen to you
But the time has come now to pay some dues...."
Written just before the enormous Tory losses in the 1997 Great Britain general election, Gaughan doesn't gloat -- he performs it more matter-of-factly than anything else. But it had to be tremendously satisfying for him to have the opportunity to write such a forceful composition. Interestingly enough, due to the recent election results that will provide Scotland with its own Parliament, the lyrics could also be applicable to England itself, not just the Tories.
His performance on this release is a mixture of subtlety and ardor. His political and humanistic themes are well-covered, plus, he performs songs he just plain admires. This is not a concept-type album but he covers enough themes, ideas and styles to offer something for everyone.
Gaughan is backed on this release by Rob Handleigh on piano and keyboard, Davie Paton on bass and Steve Green on drums.