various artists,
Gentle Giants
(Greentrax, 2004)

I can guarantee you that if anyone had asked me earlier I would not have expected to announce that one of my favourite releases of 2004 would be about horses.

For most of us the Clydesdale horse is forever associated with a certain beer in whose advertisements they are featured. This album brings us their story in 17 excellent tracks from the cream of Scottish singers and is subtitled "A celebration of the Clydesdale horse in song."

It's not often that a CD with so many tracks will not have you hitting the skip button at least once -- but not here. From the lyrical "The Last Trip Home" to the final track with a school choir singing of "The Clydesdale Horse," you will avoid all buttons other than volume control to truly enjoy the sounds.

Listening to the opening track by Battlefield Band as they recount the phasing out of the "blood and bone" for the mechanical, I was reminded of the fanfare when Concorde was watched on her final flights. These horses made a greater contribution to world agriculture and trade but left in silence other than in rural villages.

Robin Laing has one of the most soothing voices in folk and is so easy to listen to. His rendition of "Heavy Horses" evokes ploughing by horse in word pictures. "Boxer's Story" by John Malcolm reminds us of the horse in Orwell's "Animal Farm."

One of the most heart-rending songs that I have experienced in decades is "The Dying Ploughboy," as sung here by Isla St Clair. Ecology and the future are brilliantly brought to life on "The Day the Horses Came Back," as the singer wonders about the oil running out and how would we plough in that event.

This album resounds with history and social comment. It reminds us of the debt we owe to those leviathans of the land. Like so many important cogs in our past, they were invisible but essential.

This is a timely release and a worthy addition to any respectable collection.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 1 January 2005