various artists,
For Freedom Alone: The Wars of Independence
(Greentrax, 2014)

Who would have thought how ominous the year 14 has been in relation to wars in the centuries past. We all recall that The Great War started in 1914. The Irish are well versed in the Battle of Clontarf being fought in 1014. Now with another inimitable compilation/themed CD, Greentrax reminds us that The Battle of Bannockburn took place 700 years ago this year.

This label is becoming the expert at such commemorative albums thanks to the combination of an excellent catalogue and the Scottish trait of writing great songs about historic events.

As might be expected the album opens with the words of Robbie Burns performed by Arthur Johnstone on "Scots Wha Hae," followed by Ian Anderson speaking an excerpt from "The Declaration of Arbroath."

For those whose knowledge of Scottish history begins and ends with Braveheart, this CD will broaden the horizon with some beautiful songs elaborating the life and achievements of William Wallace. One of the best and most haunting of these is "The Lament of Wallace," performed by Sylvia Barnes and Sandy Stanage. This is followed immediately by Alastair McDonald giving a more rousing rendition of the life of Wallace on his own composition "William Wallace."

But Wallace was not the only Scottish hero and the man most schoolchildren may only know from the "spider tale" -- told on "The Spider Legend" -- is well fleshed out on songs such as "De Bruce, De Bruce," a poem from the 1800s set to music and performed by Ian Bruce, as well as on "Bruce's Address to his Captains Before Bannockburn," taken from a 13,000-line poem dating from the 1300s.

The Battle of Bannockburn is recalled narratively on "Sword of Bannockburn," and perhaps even more evocatively on the instrumental "Bannockburn," by Alasdair Fraser with Skyedance.

The Corries are featured twice on the album. Initially they tell the tale of "The Black Douglas," and later they are tasked with performing the unofficial Scottish anthem, "Flower of Scotland," and they bring a tear to even non-Scots' eyes on both.

The upcoming referendum on Scottish independence is referenced on an instrumental piece called "The Referendum" by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, swiftly followed by Dick Gaughain performing his own "Both Sides the Tweed" with lines that one hopes will be heeded regardless of the vote: "Let friendship and honour unite, and flourish both sides the Tweed."

As well as an excellent album you get a beautifully written short history of the wars in the accompanying insert booklet with the background of each track. Well done once again, Greentrax.

music review by
Nicky Rossiter

14 June 2014

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