Robin Laing,
The Water of Life
(Greentrax, 2003)

One begins to wonder about Robin Laing. Is there such a thing as a person addicted to singing about alcohol, as opposed to drinking it? This is a second tribute from this excellent Scottish singer-songwriter to the joy of whisky. His Angel's Breath was a triumph, but this exceeds even that CD.

He informs us in the notes that whisky is in the Scottish air. If so, it intoxicates Laing and helps him produce some great albums. Here again he mixes traditional songs with contemporary work and his own compositions.

He draws on a wide range of writers for this collection. "Shining Clear" has lyrics from the R.L. Stevenson poem "A Mile and a Bittock." Alan Reid added a chorus and a very appropriate melody. "Jock Geddes & the Soo" probably needs a dialect dictionary, but even without knowing what each word means, we get the picture and it is a very enjoyable track. The backing is very different from your run-of-the-mill folk song.

Laing goes a little bit away from the subject of whisky on "Lochanside," but the listener is the winner. This is a fabulous celebration of the great Scottish outdoors. You can feel the gentle breeze and almost hear the water of the loch lapping near your feet. I never had any inkling for fishing as a hobby, but this almost converted me.

"The Devil Uisge Beatha" is another Alan Reid song that bears close listening. It tells another excellent tale of the problems caused by whisky -- and the antics of those opposed to it. Emigration is the basis of "The Best o' the Barley," but finding "a dram in a foreign land" helps ease the pain. The song has a lovely sing-along chorus. The words are fascinating -- listen carefully and learn.

"The Wag at the Wa" is another traditional song that brings us a soap opera in four minutes with musical accompaniment. This concerns the man about to leave the pub but fearing his tardy reception at home. The title refers to the pendulum of the clock the long-suffering wife watches as she waits. The refrain is one that one can hear sung by the crowd at a concert.

A Laing original, "Bruichladdich," tells the social history of an area where there was a distillery and the sad loss as it closed. I loved "The Ghost wi' the Squeaky Wheel." Where else will you get a ghost pushing a wheelbarrow other than on a Scottish album praising the "water of life"?

Laing closes the 14-track CD with a lovely song, "A Wee Drop o' Whisky," adapted from some traditional words. It is a gentle song that resonates with a warm room after a few drams and a feeling of contentment with the world.

You don't need to be a whisky drinker to enjoy this CD -- all you need is the ability to be intoxicated by great music performed to perfection.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 19 July 2003