Retro Review / Ailie Robertson: Traditional Spirits (2016)

Ah, the Celtic Harp… Such a fragile sounding instrument; looks great but can you really use it as the central piece in a band context?

Yes, you can. If you’re Ailie Robertson, that is.

Traditional Spirits is a great album for various reasons and I just mentioned one of them: the harp takes many roles here and the artist has the skill and the vision to know exactly what to do with her weapon of choice. Some pieces are for solo harp, in others the harp plays like a rhythm guitar in a rock band and in yet others it becomes an element in the audio texture the band on the album weaves.

What we have here is in many ways a musical kaleidoscope bordering on world music. Despite the album title, this isn’t actually a Trad album at all; you will find very little “folk music” here, if that label is reserved for a certain kind of narrowly defined traditional music. Instead, on the shelves of this particular establishment are servings of trad drinks, subtly Eastern bouquets, delicate European delicacies, robust Mediterranean brews and splashes of American beverages – all mixed, lined up and served by Ms. Robertson and her ace staff of top-level musicians.

This is one of those albums that feel like a grand tour of different scenes and sights; it could become a mishmash of elements that just don’t match, but it’s the artist’s solid vision and confident steering that make it come together perfectly, thank you very much.

My favorite moments are the meditative opening, Islay Dawn, with its surprisingly mid-Eastern touches; the dynamic, very richly arranged The Cooperage; the way the Spanish-colored Solera slides into the elegantly dancing solo harp of The Angel’s Share. And the short The Illicit Still shows, I think, great promise for film music; I’d use this 2:45 piece instantly if I were a filmmaker in need of intense but beautiful, sax-led mood music.

And the rest of the album is brilliant as well, so do drop by this pub. It’s well worth the visit.

Traditional Spirits is available as HQ download and CD on Ailie’s Bandcamp site and as CD, MP3 and streaming on Amazon. The Spotify and Apple Music thingies work as well.

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