Album Review / Mhairi Hall: Airs

Way, way back in 1984 I was a Finnish high school exchange student in Michigan. My love of progressive rock was expanding my musical curiosity and one day I bought the Pat Metheny Group double live album, Travels. It’s a fantastic album and features one of the most beautiful tracks I have ever heard: Farmer’s Trust, a most simple tune with just a few choice notes falling like a gentle April rain from Pat’s guitar, backed by the serene keyboard soundscape by Lyle Mays (RIP).

The spring sun was shining into my host family’s house and the music told me, an insecure and not always happy young person, that things would be all right, that there is light in this world that will see me through. As the farmer does what he can and trusts his crops will grow, so must I have trust in this life.

I share this small recollection because pianist Mhairi Hall’s first actual solo album Airs that comes after years of her distinguished and highly valued career carries that very same emotion and message that Pat’s little tune did. And for the very same reasons: this music is formally almost minimalistic but in its heart and soul it’s huge and life-affirming to no end. Every note is its own meaning, its own perfection as Mhairi’s piano breathes new and compassionate life into old Scottish melodies.

I guess this is the kind of music you will listen to in your own good peace and time but also have with you as part of your experience. I first listened to this on one of my afternoon walks; the spring sun had begun to grow warmer and the last remains of Finnish snow were melting in the woods close to our home. The music, the light and the breeze on my face blended seamlessly together and there was that rare feeling of almost transcendent unity, with music lifting me up and giving me hope in this otherwise dismal time.

The very finely created sounds and effects that color the music on this album did not and do not distract at all; quite the opposite, they create just that special ambience that makes this a bit more than just an excellent solo piano album.

And mind you: this is very much soul music. Any accomplished pianist could technically play these tunes, but it would not be the same. These interpretations come from the artist’s heart, and that is what makes Airs unique.

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