Maeve Mackinnon – Stri

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Maeve Mackinnon is a contemporary Gaelic singer and Stri (to strive or struggle), is her third album. Maeve has a powerful and rich voice, but after Don’t Sing Love Songs in 2007 and Once upon an Olive Branch in 2012, both fine albums, Stri represents a massive leap forwards in terms of sound and confidence. Beautiful acoustic folk has evolved into a huge swaggering contemporary sound. Tracks like “Iomaraibhu Eutrom” (Row Lightly) and “Roisin Dubh” (Little Black Rose) place Maeve’s beautiful voice at the centre of lush and contemporary soundscapes. Snappy tight rhythms drive everything forward, Patsy Reid’s fiddle and Jarleth Henderson’s Uillean Pipes bind everything to the Tradition, but behind there is a lively brew of keyboards, accordion and synths giving the music a bit of sonic sparkle. Nothing sounds forced, like a Spinal Tap new direction, or some kind of self-conscious fusion, it just sounds perfect. The blend sounds like Davy Spillane’s early album triumphs, where the musicians bring a sense of energy and the unexpected to traditional material. “Moch an Diugh a Rinn mi Eirigh/Puirt-a-beul” (Early Today I Rose), is the point where the album really crackles with energy and fire. Duncan Lyall’s wonderful production builds an eerie atmosphere, looping Maeve’s voice over a ‘progtastic’ swirling Hammond, straight off that 70s World in Action theme, and an atmospheric pipes passage. The lyric is a tale of betrayed love, Maeve’s delivery against such powerful backing makes the whole thing sound charged and supernatural. The second half of the piece is a trance like swirling dance of electronica, mouth music that is simply hypnotic. Anyone beguiled by the latest Afro Celt Sound System album or the Peatbog Faeries acid croft music is going to be stopped in their tracks by this. “Ailean Duinn, O Hi Shiubhlainn Leat” (Dark Allan, I would go with you) and “Ceann Traigh Ghruinneart” (The Head of Gruineart Sands) are slower more brooding atmospheric pieces. Ross Martin’s guitar, Patsy Reid’s fiddle and Duncan Lyall’s huge Bass build a slowly shifting musical mist around Maeve and again the effect is sublime. We’re Not Staying is a powerful self-written song about exile and dislocation, in terms of arrangement it is probably closest to the earlier albums. Gaelic or English you can hear the passion in Maeve’s singing. “O Mo Cheist am Fear Ban” (Oh My Love the Fair One), the album closer is an exercise in restraint and the power that comes when less is more. Against powerful piano chords and Patsy Reid’s beautiful fiddle, impeccably recorded, Maeve wrings out the emotion out of a song of love and separation. The trance like dance of “Moch an Diugh a Rinn mi Eirigh/Puirt-a-beul”, the 70s jazz fusion electronics of “Bodachan a Gharraidh” (Little Man In The Garden). The powerful storytelling and writing of “We’re Not Staying”, balanced against the restraint and emotion of tracks like “O Mo Cheist am Fear Ban”. The assured and atmospheric playing of musicians drawn from across contemporary Gaelic and Traditional music and through it all the perfect voice of Maeve Mackinnon. Shot through with presence, class and power surely this is an album that is going to make people listen and listen again. Highly recommended