Robyn Stapleton – Songs of Robert Burns

Album Review | Laverock Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Robyn Stapleton was BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician in 2014, releasing her debut album in 2015.  Brought up in South West Scotland, Robyn traces her introduction to singing, to the poetry of Robert Burns.  Her sleeve note introductions to each track explain her personal connections to the chosen songs and gives some insightful context.  Unsurprisingly given her reputation, listening to The Songs of Robert Burns the first thing that strikes you is the purity of her voice.  It has a beautiful crystal quality rather than an earthy folky burr.  Robyn’s voice against the drum and fiddle of “Comin’ through the Rye” or the piano of “Westlin Winds” is very much the star here.  It gently but firmly demands your attention, as you are drawn in to every nuance and swoop on “Ae Fond Kiss” or “Westlin Winds” with the accompaniment swelling to fill between the verses.  Having said that, “I’m Oer Young” contains a fine set of tunes and the playing is snappy and engaging with an infectious rhythm building through the track.  “The Slave’s Lament” is wonderfully moody with Patsy Reid’s mournful viola and Stapleton’s rising and falling voice building a hypnotic atmosphere.  One of the many things that are excellent about this album is the recording and production, there is tasteful restraint throughout, with singer song and musicians all given room to breathe.  Special mention for the unaccompanied singing on “John Anderson My Jo” which is atmospheric and captivating.  The space on “The Slave’s Lament” and the understated guitar accents on “Ca’ the Yowes” are masterpieces of minimalism, burnishing but never detracting from Stapleton’s commanding voice.  Throughout The Songs of Robert Burns the arrangements and the performances are less folksy and more considered, this is a contemplative album rather than a rollicking good time, as typified by the stately “Auld Lang Syne” a piano and voice piece that closes the album.  A quietly intense, personal and emotional journey, an intimate celebration of Robert Burns and an exercise in quiet intensity from all involved.