Ed Miller,
The Edinburgh Rambler
(Wellfield Records, 1997)

This fourth CD by the Scottish-born, now Austin-based performer is like stepping into a real pub (not a tourist creation) and hearing some of the best tunes and renditions Scotland has to offer. Blending new takes on traditional songs with those from the '70s to the present, Ed Miller has succeeded in taking listeners on a tour of musical Scotland that is both accessible and thoroughly enjoyable.

Forsaking the vogue of Celtic mysticism and the scathing political diatribe, Miller still presents music that has something to say. However, the listener has the choice of either tuning in to the messages being presented or sitting back and soaking up the craftsmanship and the melodies.

The most powerful song, "Muir and the Master Builder," utilizes the horrific childhood John Muir endured at the hands of his Calvinist father as a crucible for the greatness achieved by the man through his wonderful accomplishments:

"Hold the bravest heart above the greatest of sins,
And I'll show you how to watch a hero rise"

This Brian McNeil-penned inspirational piece, part of a project about Scottish emigration to North America, is destined for greatness. My bet is it will eventually achieve the status of a traditional tune and Celtic performers will be singing this song a hundred years from now.

"There's Room For Us All in The Dance" is Miller's toe-tapping recipe of combining four Scottish tunes "Mairi's Wedding," "The Gay Gordons," "The Dashing White Sargeant" and "The Back o Bennachie." With its inclusive message of the acceptance of differences, it also sends the listener right to the midst of a Scottish dance hall.

Emigration from the various Celtic lands and its ramifications are dealt with in "Same Old Story" and "The Green And The Blue." The former deals with leaving Scotland due to economic necessity and returning as a stranger with the hope that fewer young people will be forced to depart in order to achieve success. The latter song mournfully relates the Irish escaping the Famine by emigrating and finding work in Scotland, juxtaposed with the social, political and religious effects the emigration to this day has on Scottish life.

Miller's version of "The Shearin's No' for You" pokes fun at (the lack of) Scottish romanticism, with the protagonist informing his new (and pregnant) young bride that the carefree days of youth are now gone and the forecast for the future is nothing but hardship. Didn't I say for better AND for worse?

"The Devil Made Texas/The Lads O' Duns/Duns Dings A" typifies what Miller does so well. He very effectively ends this release with his touch of combining a humorous cowboy song with an Irish jig, followed by Scottish fiddle tunes.

This release is among the best of musical Scotland. You would have to really try hard NOT to enjoy this CD.

[ by Kevin McCarthy ]