|Album Review - Turning Tide by Shoormal|
|Posted in: Reviews|
|Date: Thursday, 02 November 2006|
THREE years ago I wrote that Migrant, Shoormal's second album, was the best ever produced by a Shetland band.
Shoormal have courted the mainstream briefly with their two previous recordings. Now, with hopefully a bit of assistance from radio DJs, they could and should be ready for a full-scale love affair.
Any band that boasts not one, not two, but three top-class female vocalists would be worth listening to. The continuing line-up of Freda Leask, Joyce McDill and Donna Smith definitely fits that bill.
Anybody hearing Shoormal for the first time would be immediately struck by the voice of McDill. The word unique is much overused but it really is very difficult to find comparisons. Plaintive, emotive, a bit of Joan Armatrading perhaps, and more than a tinge of deep south gospel.
Leask and Smith are much more conventional, but eminently listenable. The variety is probably what gives the band its definition, and makes it the force it has undoubtedly become. And the three-part harmonies are as good as you will get anywhere.
Remaining as part of the eight-piece outfit are Trevor Smith and Gordon Tulloch on acoustic guitars and Gregg Arthur who is equally at home at the piano, accordion or organ. But it's all change in the rhythm section, with drummer Archer Kemp and bass player Jonathan Ritch replacing Christopher Anderson and May Gair.
Ritch is well known in the isles and beyond, due to his time with Fiddlers' Bid and other bands. Kemp, who studied drumming and percussion in London, is perhaps less well known outside fiddle and accordion circles. But he is now making a name for himself as an excellent all-round stick and brush man.
The album begins with a McDill composition with Donna Smith on lead vocals. Was Serendipity simply a happy chance encounter? Not to begin with: "He wanted the home life, and his roots burst the seams. But the living was arid, and the weeds choked his dreams." On the other hand: "She longed for fulfilment, but her standards were high. A fish out of
Ultimately the relationship seems to generate some fulfilment, however: "His roots found the water, her fins found the sky. He left in springtime, and she learned to fly."
Turning Tide is next, written by Leask and Trevor Smith and inspired by John Graham's book Shadowed Valley, based on the Weisdale clearances. The only Shetland dialect offering, it is a perfect platform for Leask's crisp but delicate vocals.
Fantastic guitar and piano solos on the McDill-penned Sanctuary sets it apart, while Leask's Full Circle is superb melodic folk, with more excellent backing harmonies.
Everyone has a favourite and A Different Road, the only track totally originated by Trevor Smith, and obviously heavily influenced by his faith, is the stand-out for me. He explains: "Most of life's road signs are pointing in the same way, all promising the earth and an easy ride; But there's so many crashes each and every day, And so many end up
Camera Obscura, credited to McDill and Trevor Smith, is just a wonderful song which grows with each listen. With Tulloch and Smith giving it licks on guitar, and laced with jazzy piano from Arthur, I imagine it will be a belter live.
Don't be fooled by the opening bar of Leask and Smith's Stone's Throw. It isn't a reworking of the Minder theme tune, which is quickly revealed. Skipping, bouncing its way along, Arthur's keyboards are sublime.
McDill's Woods in Winter is delightful, then the tone changes dramatically with Leask and Smith's Skin Deep, taken from a poem written by Freda's late brother Brian Tulloch, aided by the beautiful symmetry and euphony of the backing vocalists.
The album closes with another three McDill compositions. Slack Water is conventionally more poppy; Tightrope Walker is mellow, mournful stuff, probably the weakest track on offer.
Any perceived blip is redeemed with Texas Sky though. McDill is said to have asked the band to imagine an aircraft taking off. Gradually building, eventually soaring, the heights she has in mind are easily achieved.
"Flying high through a Texas sky, and I'm miles away. People laugh and take photographs, but I don't have much to say. Leaving a landscape flat and dry, Dallas swimming pools caught my eye. I suppose we all need dreams to get us by."
A piece of advice. Don't switch off at the end of the last track. Keep the CD running and after a couple of minutes the evidence of where McDill inherited her talents from will become obvious.
Shoormal's talent is unquestionable and they deserve to make it big. They are about to head south on tour to promote this latest offering. It's brilliant!
Review by Jim Tait, News Editor, The Shetland Times Ltd
Shoormal - Turning Tide. CD produced by Greentrax Recordings Limited.
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