Angus Macleod,
The Silent Ones:
A Legacy of
the Highland Clearances

(Torquil, 2000)

Dumhnull Caimbeul's intriguing Gaelic monologue of Donald McIver's "Alaireachd Ard (The Swelling of the Sea)," spoken to the backdrop of lapping waves, sets the scene for this awesome compilation of music inspired by the inhabitants of the Isle of Lewis who suffered as a result of Scotland's Highland Clearances.

Angus Macleod's "The Famine/Bo Gheal Chalanais" captures the haunting horror of the Scottish potato famine. Following in the footsteps of this musical portrayal of devastation, "Leodhas" chills with a pristine melody and outstanding poetry: "Here we stand on broken ground and stare into the night, tomorrow when the shadows fade, we'll walk into the light...." These words, solemnly sung by Macleod, Sara Buckingham and Jaime Jones, tell the tale of a forced exodus orchestrated by Isle of Lewis landlord James Matheson under the guise of selective emigration.

A tribute to Isle of Lewis hero Niall Odhar, the instrumental "Neil Macleod," portrays ambition, passion and a sense of honor. To the beat of pounding waves, we next sail across the ocean in "Mid Borve/Sail Away." Macleod's own vocals accent this regretful good-bye. "An Cuan Siar," an instrumental inspired by the correspondence of Lewis descendant Christina Picot to her grandson, portrays the emotional journey across the Atlantic to Quebec in a crowded, disease-ridden vessel. Christina was one of the lucky ones. As relayed in the fascinating liner notes that accompany each song, many were not so fortunate.

"Great Western Railway" chronicles the arrival of the emigrants from the Isle of Lewis to the Port of Quebec. The pounding of rails plays a large part in this song as the survivors toil on the railroad and battle mudslides and smallpox epidemics. A song reminiscing of the dreams and disappointments endured by the former Lewis families, "Inland Sea" shimmers with Buckingham's crystal voice.

"Voices on the Shore" represents three emigrant voices in three song chapters: "Voices" whispers like a wind behind the moving recitation of a Gaelic psalm. Derived from a nickname for Macleod's own family, "Shamelin" continues the intense, emotional wailing of instruments. "Catriona Nic Choinnich" written for Macleod's grandmother, continues the fast-paced emotional journey.

"I Will Be" promises solace to new brides brought over from the Isle of Lewis. "I will be your mother and your father. I will be the standing stones. I will dress you with flowers from the forest and you will never be alone...." Macleod's spirited vocals enhance this memorable tune. "It Lasts Forever" starts off humming with a harmonica and continues strumming a song that reminisces Macleod's heritage.

Throughout The Silent One, Angus Macleod captures the essence of the Highland Clearances and relays it through a chronicle of his family's history. Sometimes sad, sometimes full of promise, The Silent One brings to light both a tragic and inspiring tale through an engaging medium.

Anyone who enjoys Celtic music and history should not pass up this chance to time travel from 19th-century Scotland to Quebec, Canada. Neither should they miss the highly informative story that unfolds in Macleod's liner notes.

[ by Lynne Remick ]

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