Since December will be full of those ‘best of the year’ lists which we love at Scots Whay Hae!, the best music from October and November is going to be brought together, then split apart into albums and singles as there have been plenty great examples of both in the last months of 2015.
First off are the albums, and if you’re wondering what to get any music lover for Christmas, there is something here for most tastes, including that rarest of beasts – a Christmas album you’ll want to listen to more than once, or at all for that matter.
Perversely, I’m going to start with an album you won’t actually be able to get your hands on until February of next year, but I’m going to flag it up now because you can contribute to help get it released by going to Pledge Music, where you can find out just what you could get for your money. I also have to mention it because it is too good to keep to myself. The album is Undercurrents from Amy Duncan, and it is another collection of beautiful songs with the focus on Amy’s vocals, guitar, and wonderful strings. Songs such as ‘No Harvest’, ‘Lights In The Houses’ and ‘Different Dimensions’ take her music in new directions, but they are alongside more traditional songs like ‘The Truth Never Changes’ and ‘To The Shadow’. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a copy of Undercurrents for a week now and it’s been played every night since. It’s perfect music for cold winter nights as it brings comfort and solace, mainly, but not solely, down to Amy Duncan’s voice which is a rare thing in that it soothes at the same time as it moves you.
This is music made by and for people who love melody and memorable tunes, and the results are wonderful. The production by Calum Malcolm is understated allowing Duncan’s songs room to breathe and develop. This is a man who has worked with The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout, The Go-Betweens and Deacon Blue so you wouldn’t expect anything else, but the album also carries echoes of the best of the Finn brothers and Aimee Mann, and I can’t praise more highly than that. So, so good. This is ‘Different Dimensions’:
If that sounds like your type of thing, then you should also make time for Sarah Hayes’ new album, Woven. You may know her as a member of Admiral Fallow, or from her EP Mainspring, but with Woven she has created something quite special. It’s an album of folk music, but Hayes’ interpretations bring these songs right up to date so vital and vivid is the playing and production. It is reminiscent of Eliza Carthy, The Unthanks and June Tabor but the music feels like a tour of Northern Europe, with Irish, French and Romani influences as well as English and Scottish in evidence.
If you think you don’t like folk music I urge you to give Woven a listen as I’m convinced it will change your mind. The playing is so beautiful and precise. These are musicians who are in complete harmony with their instruments and who love their craft. And this is an album which is carefully crafted – an unashamed labour of love. Listen to ‘The Trees They Grow Tall’, ‘Where Ravens Feed’ or ‘Deep In Love’ and you will be left in no doubt about this. Then there are instrumental tracks such as ‘The Fell Line’ and ‘Mill Pond’ which are just as ravishing. Ach, just do what I did – listen to the whole thing, then repeat. You will fall under the spell of Woven. You are powerless to resist. This is ‘Deep In Love’ followed by The Daffodil/Greenwood Laddie’:
I’ve raved about The Deadline Shakes before, so excuse me while I do so again. Releasing consistently great music for some time now they have proven already they can write a great tune, and Zealots, their debut album, confirms the growing suspicion that they are the real deal; purveyors of classic pop who take their influences from all the right places and use them to make music which is all their own. You’ll have heard ‘Phonecalls In The Bath’ and ‘Frozen Out’ in previous roundups, but they are only part of the story. It’s genuinely exciting to get to hear music as inspired as this, and if you get the chance to see them live, jump at it. You can order Zealots here, but in the meantime here’s yet further evidence, as if it was needed, that all I have said is true. This is ‘Sweeten The Deal’:
Slam haven’t released a new album, but they have been busy making new music, which you can get a hold of here. This includes further remixes of Reverse Proceed (Interpretations Part 4), the forthcoming Soma Track Series Vol 1, and the superb ‘Fractious’ and ‘Serpent’ which hark back to the glory days of, well… of Slam, although with a harder edge. All of the above reminds us that we shouldn’t take Slam for granted (easy to do when you’ve been making music for as long as they have) as few make electronic music as memorable as they do. This is ‘Fractious’:
I’m going to finish part one with The Grand Gestures’ seasonal album Happy Holidays, which, if Santa is doing his job properly, should find its way into every music lover’s stocking for Christmas. Or you can get your hands on a copy here. It’s a wonderful collection of melancholic and misanthropic songs which, let’s be honest, is what Christmas is all about. As usual, Jan Burnett’s The Grand Gestures features various guest vocalists, such as Jill O’Sullivan, Grahame Skinner (great to hear his voice again), Ross Thompson, Andrew Howie, Pauline Alexander, another excellent spoken word contribution from Sanjeev Kohli, and they are a perfectly picked cast. If they make an updated musical version of A Christmas Carol this would be a perfect set of songs to use. The music fits these tales perfectly, like John Carpenter soundtracking A Miracle On 34th Street. When it all gets too much for you, as it will, stick this on and unwind. Maybe don’t play in front of the kids, though – at least not for a few years yet. This is ‘The Death Of A New Year’:
That’s it for part one of the Not Quite The End Of The Year Show (Part One). Part two, which will feature the likes of Patersani, Color Waves and The Book Group, will be with you very soon…