Album Review | Cairnie Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5
After a couple of EPs, Away From My Window is the debut album from folk singer Iona Fyfe and a concept album to boot. Surrounded by nimble sympathetic players Iona presents a set of traditional songs and songs by contemporary Scots writers including. Fyfe herself. The variety and pedigree of players and co-conspirators, demonstrates the strength of the tradition Iona has grown up within and how firmly she is bedded in it. Musicians include players from Dosca, Salsa Celtica, Gnoss, Rura and Charlie Stewart BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year. Production is by Jani Lang of Dallahan and the excellent album photos are taken by Louise Bichan, herself an excellent experimental but under recorded Scottish musician. Alongside some well-chosen samples Iona showcases the universal nature of the tradition of song in her native Aberdeenshire. “Guise of Tough”, a Bothy Ballad, Iona learnt from the singing of Jack Duncan, has a jaunty air with Fyfe’s wonderfully clear voice and a warm accompanying chorus. Listen out too for Jani Lang’s fiddle. “Glenlogie” a rare event in the Folk tradition is a song of love with tragedy averted. The strings are warm and uplifting, as befitting the tale and wrap perfectly around Fyfe’s vocals. “Banks of Inverurie” is a duet between Luc McNally’s guitar and Iona’s perfectly phrased understated singing. Splashes of Fiddle and Simon Gall’s edgy piano build atmosphere still further. “Away From My Window” opens with some wonderful atmospherics carrying in a speaker pondering the nature of the oral tradition and performance. The speaker, like the extensive song notes accompanying the album, give a great sense of Iona’s grounding in the music that came before and the music that goes on around her. The song is simply a delight, a superb vocal is joined by some emotional strings that swoop and call with great portent. Aberdeenshire singer Lizzie Higgins’ 1969 version of “Bonny Udny”, accompanied by Iona’s band opens Fyfe’s own version. My Grandmother had a copy of Lizzie’s Up and Awa’ Wi the Laverock 1975 Topic album, despite being Treasurer of Towersey Village Festival my Gran was no folkie, so that and the name made me suspect we were distantly related. The two versions of are wonderfully contrasted with the musicians bridging the gap beautifully. Two very different singers, connect through the song. Iona’s voice sounds purer still alongside Lizzie’s rich burr with its distinctive vibrato. Bass and Piano ground the performance with a kind of jazzy Classical air building to a glorious, pipes and fiddle ending. “Take Me out Drinking Tonight” is a song I knew through louche Americana versions by Michael Marra who wrote it and Cuban American Guitarist and Singer Isaac Guillory who frequently played it live. Iona with a bar room piano and a fine folk club chorus fills it with pathos and regret rather than hedonism. Either way, the performance is nuanced, emotional and a delight to listen to. “Banks of the Tigris” is Iona’s own reflection on the conflict in Syria and the Middle East, ever present in her teenage years. Connected to the album by Fyfe’s passionate vocal and through its part in the tradition of story songs, sonically it is apart with its boiling background washes of programmed sounds. The song seethes with disquiet and anger, part traditional ballad it has some of the edgy feel of Dick Gaughan’s “Song of Choice” from A Different Kind of Love Song. Iona’s vocal places it in context, but there is a sense of a stranger darker music lying just beyond the reach of Away From My Window. “Pit Gair”, in part a duet with Cameron Nixon, in part a lively tune is a fine closer more easily within the Folk tradition. Iona Fyfe is an assured singer, with a clear sense of the music she grew up with and her place within that stream. She has a very good ear and has gathered an excellent supporting cast. This is a strong long form debut with both power and potential. It will be interesting to see where Iona’s muse carries her, within the stream of the tradition she is so acutely aware of and sensitive to. If there are ten song links below this review its, because I couldn’t distil it down to one or two tracks.