Norman MacKinnon,
Western Promise
(self-produced, 2003)

Western Promise is the third album from Gaelic singer Norman MacKinnon, who comes from the Western Highlands of Scotland and is an adaptable and innovative artist. For several years he's been associated with folk band Gun Ainm, and he chanced to work with Runrig on In Search of Angels.

What appears to be a new career development came from his involvement with The Jewels of Kintyre, a CD in support of the Saddell Abbey Trust. The popularity of his English singing on that CD led to the inclusion of English tracks on the traditional album under review here.

The first thing that endeared me to this album and to MacKinnon was the opening track. He fills the air with a familiar and sweet-sounding Gaelic song (that he says was probably written in Canada) about the sadness of exiles from the Isle of Mull, who left their home during the clearances for opportunities in the New World. Sad it is, so mournful as a good Celt should be.

After that grand beginning, it was obvious his strong, velvet voice yearns with the best of them. Unrequited love, sadness of farewells and love for one's homeland are all featured here leaving us no doubt about the pleasurable timbre of his voice. It comes as no surprise that MacKinnon has won the Gold Medal for Gaelic solos at the National Mod in Dunoon.

Mixed among those Celtic tear-jerkers are a couple of lively and comedic songs (the liner notes describe the songs for the nonfluent Gaelic listener) that are a treat to listen to. One's a pub song and the other a sharp song about a potential lover's physical drawbacks.

An important feature of this CD was the musical accompaniment. Touches are light and flowing so MacKinnon's voice is the cornerstone. Lyrics shine through traditional sounds of pipe, fiddle, guitar and piano as they move around and over and under, creating a beautiful body of music.

I would have liked translations of the lyrics but the liner notes give a few clues if you want to do a little research. Of course, why translate when the songs are so beautiful in their proper state. Better to learn the language, no?

I would have appreciated a few more lively songs like "Loch Maree Islands." It might have lightened the overall mood of the album, which is quite serious. The beauty and grace of Western Promise cannot be denied, however, and MacKinnon truly is a master of these songs, in English or Gaelic -- his voice rich and effortless as he carries a tune. Ach, yes, it's good thing this. It's a CD of lasting worth in the realm of Scottish Gaelic song.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 1 May 2004

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