Album Review | Reveal Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5
Vocalist with 80s band Fairground Attraction, Solo performer and musician for nearly thirty years Eddi Reader is an unstoppable force, a sparkling, shimmering whirlwind of musical energy. She has a huge presence that fills a space, turning venues of all sizes into her parlour as she chats with the audience and delivers jaw dropping performances. Eddi possesses the voice and the fearlessly loose sensibility of a jazz singer, being effortless virtuosic without the histrionics. Why she isn’t talked of in the same terms as classic period Van Morrison or a Celtic Rod Stewart is a mystery to me. As a writer or a performer of traditional songs, or others material she is both major league and pretty much peerless. So given all that a new album from Eddi Reader is always a cause for celebration and that to one side Cavalier is a very fine addition to her already strong catalogue. Opener traditional song “Maidens Lament (An Charraig Dhonn)” is a soft slow folky shuffle. Eddi just breathes the lyric carried on a choir of her own and Siobhan Miller’s backing vocals. Clarinet and Michael McGoldrick’s whistles perfectly blend together smooth Benny Goodman jazz and Traditional Folk. The result is a delightful breathy masterpiece. Wonderful is a piece of sophisticated pop, tasteful like the best of her Fairground Attraction recordings. The glorious chorus vocals could be lifted straight off Eddi’s self-titled classic second album. “Cavalier” with a superb vocal, great Atlantic Records Brass and an insistent tune carries the intelligent pop feel on. Eddi’s vocal is infectious with her whoops and yelps creating an intoxicating atmosphere. “Starlight” with its 50s Freshmen chorus and cool jazz reeds is a masterpiece of sophistication. Boo Hewerdine’s song and the arrangement are so timeless it sounds like a cover. This has seasonal hit written all over it. “Meg o the Glen” is another traditional tune, Phil Cunningham’s Accordion and Alyn Cosker’s drumming ensure that the song and “Brenda Stubbert’s Reel” at the end are alive with rhythm. “My Favourite Dress” has Eddi’s crooner side on show, slow and emotional like Glasgow’s answer to k.d. Lang. “My Favourite Dress” and “The Loch Tay Boat Song” continue the slow and sensuous. Steve Hamilton’s piano flows and shimmers like ECM ambient jazz smoke with punches of Jazz Bass while Eddi delivers a sublime vocal that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. That spiritual, stripped back Jazzy Soul Folk that Van Morrison got inside on Hymns to the Silence abounds on a track you can lose yourself in. Fishing adds some lovely brass to the mix and continues that stunning run of tracks, Eddi’s voice just shines and the band around her crackles and sparkles. “Maid of the Lough” is another Hymn like Folk anthem, a rootsy take on Christopher Cross and Yacht Rock, but the backing is understated and tasteful and the track is another triumph of stillness and atmosphere. “Old Song”, as the title suggests, is a warm nostalgic call to the singer to sing us an old song in this old time swirl of a track. “Pangur Ban and The Primrose Lass” is a wonderful diary entry set to music, about Eddi’s cat, late night song writing and the musician’s lifestyle. Wisely’s vocal is classic Eddi over gentle guitar lines, delivering reflective life lesson lyrics. The final track is an arrangement of Robert Burns’ “A Mans a Man for a That”, an 18th century pondering around what exactly is a true measure of man. Eddi long a huge fan and interpreter of Burns has chosen deep thoughts and truths to close. Interestingly this is the second album I’ve reviewed this year that has ended on this Robert Burns poem, the first being Adrian Nation’s “Anarchy and Love”. If you love a fine vocalist, a singular writer and interpreter who flows effortlessly between genres and can summon tears of joy then this album for you. If you get the chance see her live, her voice will floor you as will her connection to her band and the audience.