Dougie MacLean,
Who Am I
(Dunkeld, 2001)

Dougie MacLean's 17th album, the aptly named Who Am I, is his first album of new songs since 1997's Riof. The new songs happily continue the high standard he has established with his previous body of work. The sound on this disc is a comforting blend of acoustic guitar, bass and drums, with various combinations of piano, keyboards, electric guitar, cello, whistle, pipes, digeridoo and some of the most hauntingly beautiful fiddle work that you could hope to hear. Dougie plays both the fiddle and acoustic guitar here; he also writes and sings in a heartfelt, easygoing style that makes you feel you're spending time with an old friend. Listening to Who Am I is a perfect stress reducer -- a salve for the soul if you will.

To understand and appreciate this music, it helps to know a little bit about who Dougie is. (Hence, no doubt, the title of the album.) He is an artist who has a strong appreciation for the beauty and power of nature and for his place in it. He loves to spend time on the Isle of Lewis, one of the western isles off the northwest coast of Scotland. He highly values the family, especially the knowledge and traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next. He has not only included old family photos throughout the CD booklet (including the cover), but he's also got a picture of his great-grandfather on his website.

After working as a member of both the Tannahill Weavers and Silly Wizard, Dougie gave up on the conventional music industry when he moved back to his home town of Dunkeld in Scotland's Perthshire countryside and formed his own label, which has released all of his recordings since 1981's Craigie Dhu. His wife Jennifer is the artist who is responsible for the lovely paintings that grace most of Dunkeld's releases.

"Not Lie Down" kicks off the album with a positive message along the lines of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up." "We'll Be Together Again" starts with some lovely fiddle while dispensing more power of positive outlook. Later, when the whistle comes in, you might momentarily think you'd switched over to the Titanic soundtrack. This is an album without a bad track on it, but "Talking With My Father" is the true centerpiece, with its family generational theme and superb recording quality that puts the acoustic guitar right there in the room with you. Although "subtle" is not a word one usually associates with bagpipes, this track features some very nice work on the Scottish small-pipes that adds measurably to the atmosphere of the song. "Pabay Mor" has more tasteful piping (yes, it's true), with evocative lyrics dealing with the ocean and shore of the Isle of Lewis.

Simple values such as love, family, tradition, honest work, good friends, good music, a good pub, freedom and a high regard for the history and natural beauty of Scotland infuse all of Dougie's work on this album. Cynics who find such sentiments na•ve or trite should pass on this one. On the other hand, I can instantly transform my hour-plus commute through heavy city traffic into a relaxing ramble through Scotland, simply by dropping this disc into my car player.

[ by William Kates ]
Rambles: 2 March 2002