Catriona Price may not be a household name yet but the Celtic music community is surely familiar with Orkney’s fabulous fiddle strike force FARA whose lineup Catriona is a part of. She is also 50 % of the ambitious modern folk duo Twelfth Day.
With classical violin training and already a long folk/trad career, she is now out as a forceful composer in her own right with the release of her first solo outing, Hert (“heart” in the Orcadian dialect) on the day I write this, January 20, 2023.
Hert was commissioned already a few years ago by Celtic Connections’ New Voices series and I actually heard Hert’s premiere performance in CC2020, the festival that took place literally only weeks before Covid exploded in Europe.
What I recall is my surprise: instead of refined “chamber folk”, Hert turned out to be a multifaceted, totally genre-blending, brave and often striking statement from a musician willing and able to make her mark.
It has been three years since that afternoon and I honestly cannot say what and how many updates and changes she may have made to Hert between January 2020 and the recording of the album but what I now hear matches with my fragile recollections perfectly.
Musically, Hert is very much an ensemble work. Price works here with a band that’s part classical string quartet, part jazz band, and the overall sound fits that description, I think. Intricate and ambitious vocal harmonies appear on almost every piece, giving the album s special vibe.
As a result of all this, the aural heart of Hert (apologies, I could not let that pass unused) is both ethereal and sharp; never aggressive but never flat or polite either.
The musical map it charts ranges from the lounge jazz stylings of No Such Thing As Belonging and the gentle lyricism of Swans and Silence to the more modernist swathes of the title track and Storms.
This could lead to an album that doesn’t know where it’s going but, like any 1970’s Queen album, it somehow accommodates different styles under one roof and makes sense as a whole. After all, Hert was commissioned as a piece to be performed and Price has a such a solid voice as a composer, the result is a organic instead if confusing.
She has noted that “In my own composition work the doors are wide open — I try to write whatever my subconscious feels, to dig deep to try and find whatever it is that the music needs. And all the while keeping my ears open and learning from the musicians I admire, the stories I’m inspired by, and the world around me” and Hert definitely testifies to that.
Finally, it needs to be noted that all lyrics on Hert are directly or indirectly by Orcadian writers. Many artists from Orkney, across different art forms, seem very connected to and energized by the the nature and culture of their environment and she seems to be like that as well. No wonder – I myself fell in love with Orkney right away on my first visit there; there really is something exceptional in the atmosphere there.
Hert is not your party album and perhaps not one you’d put on when relaxing with a wee dram at home in the evening, either. It’s ambitious, impossible to label, extremely well performed and requires that you stop and take notice.
It’s a work by a fiercely talented young composer realizing her vision. As she keeps her musical doors open – and I praise her for doing so – I believe we can hope for many more exciting, and equally surprising, works in the future.
Hert is now available on multiple channels, including Catriona’s Bandcamp site: