Mairi MacInnes,
This Feeling Inside
(Greentrax, 1995)

Award-winning Gaelic singer Mairi MacInnes presents a refreshing mix of traditional and contemporary songs on this recording. Largely inspired by her current home, the Isle of Arran, MacInnes uses her gentle and flexible voice to great effect on a wide variety of music. Her vocal talents are extraordinary, incorporating a wide range of notes, knowledge of English and Gaelic, and a depth of expression which I have seldom heard on Gaelic recordings. Her use of dynamic swells, vibrato and tonal change can communicate the mood (if not the meaning) of the words, regardless of whether the listener has ever heard Gaelic before.

One of the most unusual things about this recording is the selection of music. Most traditional singers either stick strictly to traditional music or sing modern music that has a traditional sound. MacInnes seems equally at home with her own original musical compositions and with the very traditional music of her ancestors. Her original music has the gentle, yet modern, edge one generally finds in Christian contemporary music. The rhythms, accompaniments, and even the lyrics fit this mold, except that some of the lyrics are in Gaelic.

The lyrics to these songs are mostly written by S. Evans, who even uses imagery that fits the style of contemporary Christian music. "Follow the Light," a song totally in English, has a chorus which states, "Follow the light / Stay close by my side / Follow the light / I shall be your comfort tonight." Other lyrics celebrate the remote, neighborly way of the islands, and the land itself. "Sit at My Table" talks about a friendship between urban and rural friends, and how the urban friend has come to join the peace, friendship and tranquility of the rural neighborhood. The title track, "This Feeling Inside," speaks of pride in Gaelic heritage, with a chorus that states "I am a Gael / So gentle and proud / I trust in God and my people." Each of these songs is deftly and passionately delivered in MacInnes' gentle, lyrical voice.

Interspersed amongst the nine contemporary tracks are five traditional tracks, plus one traditional-sounding modern song. These songs are equally well-presented, all in strong Gaelic. The modern song (written by R. MacDonald), "Cum Ar 'Naire" or "Keep in Mind," is a gentle but passionate reminder to those who have left the Western Isles that their heritage is of great value and should never be forgotten. The admonition is delivered in a most loving and caring way, with delightful harmony vocals under the melody. The track ends with a soulful bagpipe solo of the melody played by Fred Morrison. Equally soulful is the piano and flute accompaniment by William Jackson under MacInnes' heart-felt vocals on "Fraoch A Ronaidh" (Heather from Rona). The accompaniment, also including occasional cymbal shakes, gives an ethereal and otherworldly atmosphere to this song, emphasized by MacInnes' sometimes almost moaning vocals.

The most exciting tracks, to this traditional music fan, are MacInnes' longingly delivered vocals on the classic Isle of Lewis traditional song, "Fear a Bhata," and the amazing mouth music sets. "Fear a Bhata" has been performed by many, but few have captured the longing, feeling of loss and touch of hope that MacInnes manages to incorporate into her rendition. The harp, guitar and fiddle accompaniment matches the flow and pace of her expression perfectly.

The CD opens with four expertly-delivered puirt a beul, or mouth music tunes. These are dance tunes, traditionally performed by vocalists without accompaniment. MacInnes does them here with perfect punctuation, leaving no mistake that this music was meant for dancing, not just listening. There is a nice accent of percussion by James McKintosh to give the track just the right panache. Just as outstanding is the second track of mouth music, near the end of the recording. Here, MacInnes really captures the essence of Scottish dance music, with a percussive, lilting delivery, accompanied on rhythmic guitar by Tony McManus. I have never heard mouth music more convincingly delivered. There are no hesitations in beat for breath or artistic effect.

Overall, this is an exceptional recording by a noteworthy Gaelic singer. The music selection is unusual, and I would prefer to have the traditional songs grouped separately from the modern selections, but the quality of the music throughout is unquestionably high. My only other complaint would be the lack of translation of some of the Gaelic lyrics. Mairi MacInnes is a name to be reckoned with in the Gaelic music scene.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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