various artists,
Salm: Vol. 1, Gaelic Psalms
from the Hebrides of Scotland

(Ridge, 2004)

This is a fascinating peek into a totally different world of music than what most of us know. The Gaelic tradition of sung psalms is not unique, but it has its own distinctive style and emotion that cannot be adequately compared to many other traditions. The precentor, or leader, sings an opening line, and the congregants responds with their line, in their own time and with their own harmonies. The resulting sound is an echoing, surging chorus of music with a life all its own.

The sound is like waves of music crashing against the walls of the church, washing the entire congregation in a sea of sound.

I have heard this art form on recording before, but never so beautifully done, or so widely represented on one recording. Calum Martin gathered some of the finest of the Gaelic precentors (from throughout the Gaelic-speaking islands of Scotland) together with a congregation of Salm-loving singers, and recorded live, unrehearsed versions of 12 Salms. The spontaneity is evident, the emotion is at times overwhelming, and the quality of recording is superb for such a large endeavor -- to capture the sound and feel of being inside a church as such an amazing event transpires. The recording took place over only two days, Oct. 20 and 21, 2003. The CD tingles with the excitement created by this short-term, unprecedented experience.

This is folk-tradition meeting religious ceremony at its very best. There is no adequate way to describe this art form without hearing it, and it is well worth hearing if you have any interest in religious music or Scottish traditional music. If you have such interest, don't hesitate to buy this CD.

The proceeds from the recording benefit the Bethesda Home and Hospice in Stornaway, Isle of Lewis, so purchasing this recording is an act of charity. How can you go wrong? At the least, you will be educated in a new and exotic art form, and you just might find that you have a life-changing spiritual experience as a result.

- Rambles
written by Jo Morrison
published 1 January 2005