Let’s be honest about it: traditional songs from the Celtic and Nordic area tend to be… well, not all that complicated, musically. At least we who live in these areas and are familiar with their musical grammar can learn to hum or sing these tunes pretty quickly.
So when artists take on this tradition and want to put their stamp on it, they have to deal with the fact that the songs themselves are not the kind of musicological challenge a classical piece or a Frank Zappa creation would be. When doing songs that are quite simple (on the face of it, that is) they can either go for some radical interpretation or reboot of the material, or they can make the songs alive more through their spirit and presence than structural innovations.
I am not partial to either direction – both can succeed and both can fail – but in this case I am very happy to inform you that Glaswegian singer-songwriter Claire Hastings has gone the more traditional path and given us a real delight of an album in Those Who Roam. The style here is between folk and singer-songwriter, a niche that seems very much her own, in the best possible way.
It’s her second solo endeavor (and she’s also a member of the fab Top Floor Taivers) and it features a small but oh so good ensemble, a great selection of songs both trad and modern , loads of tasteful arrangements and, most of all, the power of her interpretations.
On this album, her naturally beautiful voice and genuine presence make the songs and the stories in them come alive without overdoing it or feeling phony and the band has found just the right touches and colors for these songs, many of them about journeys. travels and wanderings. They are not all happy tales, as you can probably imagine. but none of the tracks comes across as morose – poignant is the word that goes for many of these stories.
As the 40 minutes of music here is of very even quality, it’s kind of unfair to pick out any specific tracks, but do I find myself listening especially to the catchy and almost radio-friendly Fair Weather Beggar (written by herself), the nicely rolling cover of Dave Alvin’s King Of California and the totally entrancing, magical readings of Jamie Raeburn and Ten Thousand Miles. I would so love to hear this acoustic set live in some nice club or small concert room where I could really soak up the intimate power of these songs and these performances. One can hope, because you never know where people’s journeys can take them… 🙂