Album Review | Skipinnish Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5
The belief in the power of the Seventh Wave, when compared to those that came before, runs through folklore and legend the world across. This is Skipinnish’s seventh album and arrives on a wave of popularity with successful single releases and sell out live shows across the country. There is a sense of rebirth too, as amidst the groundswell, the album also features the lead vocals of new member Norrie MacIver. With great memories and gratitude to past members the band acknowledges that it is aware of its past and excitedly poised to sail on. Alive the opener is a swelling song of affirmation with a hymn like verse that opens the album beautifully. A choir like chorus creates an atmosphere as if we are gathered around a church piano before the band kicks in and we swirl away. The writing is rich, with nautical metaphors and imagery that celebrates the joy of being alive “feel the bliss wash your being”. The song has a perfect simple beauty and could well come to be their “Meet On The Ledge”. First set of tunes “The Hag” blasts away any sentimentally on a swell of driving rhythms and superb playing. As in many great things, the devil is in the detail and across the set there is control and constraint with beautiful airs and then passages where you just want to surrender to the music and chuck yourself about. “Harvest Of The Homeland” is another affirming song with Skipinnish keeping a torch alight for a way of life that is clearly close to their hearts. Again the writing is rich with metaphor and imagery, people are small against a huge sky and a powerful landscape. There is a soulful power in the massed voices, organ and a snarling folk rock electric guitar. “Ocean Of The Free” begins as a work song round that recalls the warm folk popularised by bands like Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends. But in the hands of Skipinnish the form twists with a snarling folk verse and a swaggering ‘pogo’ tempo that celebrates the life of Hebridean sailors. The writing gives the song a strong sense of place and connection, while the driving rhythm never lets us forget that this is dance music. “The Iolaire” shows again the thoughtful side of the band. A lyrical piano and an emotional violin open a song that describes the sinking of the Iolaire in 1919 and the loss of at least 205 sailors returning to Lewis having fought in The First World War. The song drips with irony as it details the loss of men who had survived four brutal years in the futile fields of war and describes how they were in sight of the harbour lights of home when they wrecked. Again Skipinnish, give the island dwellers perspective, using the dark savagery of nature to remind us of the smallness of man. Even war, which is the worst of man’s excesses, is surpassed by the blind indiscriminate scythe that is the sea around the islands. The sailors had survived the war, but the first day of peace would show their bodies, carried ashore on the morning tide with the scattered wreckage. Like the song, there is a melancholic beauty and a cold power in the gathered choir of vocals and Caitlin LR Smiths haunting vocals. If that doesn’t bring at least a lump to your throat then nothing will. December is a wonderful song that sets the cold of winter against the warm whisky glow of love. Love of course conquers everything and we are left with a wonderful guitar and keyboard atmospherics instrumental that crackles with heartfelt emotion. Second set of tunes “The Old Woman” sets three jigs and dances between two Gordon Duncan tunes from a slightly wider tradition. The first “The Soup Dragon” celebrates one assumes The Clangers, themselves travellers from slightly further away than the North Sea, the second, written by a man described as the Jimi Hendrix of the Bagpipes, honours legendary musician Rory Gallagher. “The Island” is a song suite opening with a lyrical electric guitar that is part Pink Floyd part Knopfler. The set of songs celebrates island life and those distant summers which are always perfect. There is a warmth and a longing for a place and time and a strength to the words, suggesting that this is a traditional song in the making. Like so much of the album from the evocative cover through many of the songs, “Home On The Sea” and “Walking on the Waves” describe the joy of coming back to the islands and the seas that they are set in. “Walking on the Waves” is a revisit of an earlier Skipinnish, here given a new edge and power. “Alba” with emotional vocals is carried along on waves of electric guitar that gives it a folk-rock swagger and power. Skipinnish manage to add light and shade by slowing it down for a beautiful vocal section. The album closes with a rich array of tunes within “MacNab’s Set” and finally “Cro Chinn t-Saile”. The playing is always impressive and powerful. The opening quickstep sets powerful Highland Bagpipes to the fore, through “The Devil In The Kitchen” and some Gaelic tunes the music pulses and swirls around you in waves, the tempo rises and falls and you marvel at the tightness of the playing and the way the music changes. “Cro Chinn t-Saile” is a powerful closer, it opens with a slow air that is all atmospherics while the opening and closing stops of the accordian play a mournful tune. This morphs perfectly into Bagpipes that carry the tune on in a way that is stately and cinematic. The final section with the massed Gaelic voices guilds what was already pretty close to perfect. For a traditional music dance band Skipinnish pull expertly and dexterously on your heart strings when they want to. While for a lyrical instrumental band, they can get you up and dancing like a beast possessed, with an ease that seems almost unearthly. In The Seventh Wave by Skipinnish you have very much the best of both worlds, the fire and the wonder.