Album Review / Napier, Frame & Vass: The Ledger

“Every week in the late ’50s and early ’60s The Scotsman published a traditional Scottish folk song with lyrics and melody alongside an explanatory article by folklorist Norman Buchan. My Grandfather, Findlay Cumming, cut them out of the newspaper and pasted them into a ledger…”

Those are Findlay Napier’s words on Bandcamp, telling how he, Gillian Frame and Mike Vass came to make this album of traditional Scottish songs. He also instructs the listener that “The Ledger is best enjoyed beside a roaring fire with a dram… tea and coffee also work… especially with a dram in them.”

And he is right, of course. The Ledger is a most charming album, devoid of any pretense and full of soul. The arrangements are not exactly ultramodern (I think only Van Diemen’s Land takes some deliberate distance from the traditional style) but there are small and tasteful touches of studio magic that bring the songs easily into the 21st century. Findlay’s album information tells us the selection of tunes, from quite a large resource, was made simply on the always reliable “we really like these songs” method. Even a total amateur like me knew some of these songs before, so there was no attempt by the artists to uncover some really obscure Scottish tunes that time forgot. They played what they wanted to play on this album and that’s how it should be.

As a whole, the album is very coherent and comes across as a small venue or home concert; it’s nothing really dramatically innovative but it’s expertly performed and so beautifully warm. Gillian Frame is not only a master fiddler and I have always enjoyed her singing that has an understated but powerful presence and it fits perfectly the tales, often sad, told in these songs. Her tender rendition of Jamie Raeburn is probably The Ledger‘s high point for me. And Findlay Napier is of course a great singer in his own right and his interpretation of The Road to Dundee that closes the album is simply beautiful.

So, haste ye now to and then just follow Findlay’s instructions in the beginning of this review. Slàinte!

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