Birichen – Hush

EP Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

Birichen is the creation of Highlands’ singer Catriona Sutherland. Joined by Iain-Gordan Macfarlane on fiddle and guitar and Robert McDonald on dobro slide guitar, this represents Catriona and Birichen’s first release. Stand outs on this five track EP are opener “Holding on to Each Moment” and the closer Birichen’s version of Jim McLean’s glorious highland clearances song “Smile in Your Sleep”. “Holding on to Each Moment” layers a beautiful melody that recalls Johnny Flynn’s evocative music for The Detectorists. A pastoral idyll is evoked with carefully layered bird song and atmospherics. The fiddle and guitar parts are simply perfect, adding to the atmosphere and glints of brilliance in their own right. Catriona’s delivery of the love song is a wonder, her voice blending sorrow and joy. “Smile in Your Sleep” written in the early 60s, as a lullaby lament for the Highland clearances, by Piper Jim McLean is a powerful song. Birichen’s version opens with ambience of children and rain as if it is being sung to a slumbering infant. Catriona’s breathy delivery is hypnotic, captivating. Iain-Gordon’s guitar is resonant and atmospheric, but Sutherland’s vocal is powerful, wringing every drop of emotion out of a poignant song. I could listen to these two tracks especially all day. Birichen’s version of Gillian Welsh’s “Scarlet Town” replaces the pulsing Americana of the original with a fiddle led folkiness, it sounds so right you’d swear it was a band original. The big guitar chords and swinging fiddle of “Gonnae Get Good”, an original composition by Catriona, hint back to her jazz roots, with another superb vocal to boot. “L.A Freeway” nods to the influence of Country on Catriona. At a slow, contemplative pace compared to Guy Clark’s original, the sweet fiddle is the same, Catriona’s fine vocal finds meaning and avoids the odd bar room chorus on this leaving song. Birichen across the six tracks of Hush, offer a glimpse of potential possibilities. Catriona Sutherland’s stunning voice completely inhabits songs by other Songwriters, finding meaning in well known, well covered standards. Iain-Gordon Macfarlane and Robert McDonald provide atmospheric and rich musical accompaniment. The choice of material and inventive use of atmospherics suggests an inventive meeting of minds in this trio’s excellent debut.