Alice Marra – Chain Up the Swings

Album Review | Inner City Sound | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5

Alice is a member of Dundonian Indie Popsters The Hazy Janes, but she is presenting a set of her father Michael Marra’s songs. Michael Marra’s rich writing was rooted in the Folk tradition and shot through with a real sense of Scotland and Scottish life. After successful career as a musican and composer of classic songs Michael died in 2012. On the collection of Marra classics and rarities Alice is backed by a band that includes members of Michael’s Gaels Blue Orchestra. Alongside this release Michael Marra’s back catalogue from 1980’s The Midas Touch and High Sobriety the solo concert from 2000 is being comprehensively reissued. Michael had collaborated with the Hazy Janes including his children Alice and Matthew both on record and in concert and Alice continues that collaboration on Chain Up The Swings. The arrangements on the songs are rich and lush with a stately quality. Alice’s voice is pure and clear an obviously contrast to Michael Marra’s world worn rumbling burr. On classic songs like Frida Kahlo’s “Visit To The Taybridge Bar” the cadence of her crystalline vocal is a beautiful contrast to Michael’s familiar reading of his lyrics. On Frida Kahlo’s “Visit To The Taybridge Bar” especially there is a fragile power to Alice’s tender reading of the surreal story. Her vocals on “Mother Glasgow” are warm, giving the song a hymn like quality. The band is understated and sympathetic, never showy, the guitar solo and choir vocals on “Goodnight Lovely You” are classy and serve the song well, there’s nothing histrionic or overstated. The playing on tracks like “Chain Up The Swings” oozes with the languid swing or tasteful restraint of Van Morrison’s band or Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra and straddles genres like the best of both those bands. Brass, Piano, Clarsach, the instruments may be drawn from different backgrounds, but the whole has a cohesion and a dreamlike quality. The piano notes and ethereal vibes that blend into “Mincing Wi’ Chairlhi” have a jazz shuffle and a lightness that recalls kd Lang at her most heavenly. On this track again the sparkling piano and lightness of touch puts me in mind of Van Morrison around the Hymns to the Silence era and add to the same spiritual quality in the music. The songs with their evocative mix of surreal imagery and the ordinary injected with magic realism are Michael Marra’s, while Alice’s singing and the album is a heartfelt tribute that breathes a new life into the mix of the obscure and familiar. With the simultaneous re-release of Michael Marra’s rich catalogue his fans are in for a treat and both old and new Marra enthusiasts will enjoy the feel and experience of Chain the Swings.