Fiona J. Mackenzie,
A Good Suit of Clothes
(Greentrax, 2009)

A Good Suit of Clothes is subtitled "Songs of the Emigrant Gael" and, despite its English title, the songs are all in Gaelic. But do not let this put you off. As stated in previous reviews, even for those who took a dislike to that language at school it is a surprisingly musical language. Fiona J. Mackenzie has a beautiful voice ideally suited to the songs on offer here.

The songs record a 300-year history of emigration from Scotland in this year of "Homecoming Scotland." They range geographically from Uist to New Zealand, with Halifax and Australia also represented. The enclosed booklet gives the translations of the songs and includes some lovely old photographs.

To facilitate the fact that most of our readers speak English and save my spell check I will use the translated titles.

"Song of Homesickness" is a powerful reminder of thousands who emigrated to Australia under the "assisted passage scheme." A lullaby called "Sleep Quietly" probably originated in North Carolina in the late 1700s but it has a lovely modern feel. A song title that probably encapsulates emigration and sorrow and lost love better than any other is "You are Alive in My Soul."

"Boys Be Happy" is one of the more upbeat emigration songs as it entreats emigrants to look forward to a better life, which I suppose all emigrants should try to bear in mind. Ironically, the next track called "The Gloomy Forest," set in Nova Scotia of the 19th century, tells of a sadder reality based on the hardships endured. "A New Zealand Song" will have a familiar sound. It depicts New Zealand but uses the quintessentially Robert Burns tune "Ae Fond Kiss" to great effect.

This is an excellent album of top-class if little-known songs sung by a fantastic singer with sensitive and never overpowering backing.

review by
Nicky Rossiter

5 December 2009

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