various artists,
The Scottish Diaspora
(Greentrax, 2014)

For decades this label has brought us the best in Scottish folk music, and in recent years they have produced some excellent compilation or themed history albums. The current offering, The Scottish Diaspora, is probably one of their best.

We have all heard of the book and television program How the Scots Invented the Modern World. Now, in many ways we have the musical version. Over the 39 tracks on offer here we can trace a history, often paralleled with the Irish, where natives of a Celtic land have colonized the world on a personal rather than a military or commercial level. The stories of these pioneers contrast sharply with the imperial conquests and the companies that chased the riches of foreign lands.

The opening track, "Scots Abroad," acts like a preface to a history book as The McCalmans name check many of those individuals who went to seek new and better lives on other shores and in so doing enriched their new homes. One of these was John Muir, who might be seen as the father of Yosemite National Park in America. Dick Gaughan tells his story most eloquently on Brian McNeill's song "Muir & the Master Builder."

"Dance Called America" by Donnie Munro paints a picture of some of those emigrant journeys. People like "Elijah Craig" are not often lauded in history, but this contributor to the distilling of great whiskey is remembered by Robin Laing.

Alan Mills recognises the Scottish contribution to Canada on two tracks that are almost self-explanatory: "The Ballad of New Scotland" and "The Maple Leaf Forever." The great Stan Rogers adds to this with "Scarborough Settler's Lament," showing that although emigration opened new opportunities there was also a deep loss of homeland. Rogers emerges again as writer rather than performer on the magnificent "Northwest Passage." Performed to great effect by The McCalmans, this relatively new song could pass as an old shanty on a sailing ship of the Franklin period.

The Scots who went south are recalled by Brian McNeill on "Ewen the Gold" and equally well by Coreen Scott on Eric Bogle's "Shelter," often called "Green among the Gold." "Waltzing Matilda," the Australian anthem, was written by Andrew "Banjo" Paterson, who was a second-generation Scots-Australian; on this album we hear a fascinating version in Kriol by Ali Mills. Irish readers are reminded that not all Scots traveled thousands of miles to make an impression on the track from Dick Gaughan called "Connolly was There," with words by Dominic Behan.

And where would the world be without Robbie Burns and "Auld Lang Syne," which is surely one of the most enduring exports of this mist-shrouded land?

Listening to this CD and reading the insert, which is a history book in itself, one longs to see the words and stories married to images in what could be a magnificent film.

music review by
Nicky Rossiter

15 March 2014

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