various artists,
McCalman Singular
(Greentrax, 2004)

We are all familiar with the excellent work of the McCalmans. The title of this album might lead us to imagine a break-up of the group -- such as happens regularly with pop outfits. You can breath a sigh of relief. The band is not gone. The title refers to Ian McCalman and his powers of composition. In the booklet supplied, he informs us of his surprise on being informed that others have recorded more than 50 of his songs.

The CD brings together 15 out of that number. We are treated to a cross-section of the Scottish folk tradition with a common thread of song origins. It opens with Barbara Dickson performing the evocative "From Greenland." Part of the UK folk tradition is recalled on "Sidmouth Folk Festival Blues."

It is hard to beat the Scots -- especially the ladies -- on unaccompanied singing. Sangsters are great exponents of the genre and are on top form on "Scotland." Allan Taylor introduces "Wrecked Again" with a monologue telling the tale of the folk singer. He then launches into a song-story in the same vein, sung with feeling and just a hint of humour.

A signature tune of the McCalmans is "Highlands Tomorrow." As if to prove that genes are all and that the tradition is in good hands, Ian's niece Janet provides the vocals on a lovely version.

No album celebrating Scottish folk music would be complete without Dick Gaughan, and here he gives us the strident "War Outside."

Ian is no shrinking violet and proves it on a solo slot with "Edinburgh." This is a song to bring even the most casual visitor to that "Athens of the North" back in dreams and memory. To prove that the band is still here they appear on the CD with the sad, serious yet humorous and very contemporary "W.M.D."

This is a showcase of the writing talent of Ian McCalman allied to a showcase of contemporary Scottish folk performers at their best.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 15 January 2005