Tuesday, February 9, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 829: Capercaillie

You probably came here looking for a music review, so let’s get to it!

Disc 829 is….Sidewaulk
Artist: Capercaillie

Year of Release: 1989

What’s up with the Cover? Another awkward folk cover. Based on the combination of clothing, expressions and wallpaper this one appears to have been taken in a funeral parlour’s showroom in between picking out the coffin and the floral arrangement. Most of the band appears to be staring stoically to the left, but the guy in the middle has decided to try his “dead sexy” face on the photographer. And the guy on the right? Let’s just say he dances to the beat of his own bodhran.

How I Came To Know It: I bought their album “Crosswinds” for the rather random reason of having a lot of Gaelic songs, but I got lucky. “Sidewaulk” was me buying their next release after I knew I loved the band.

How It Stacks Up:  I have nine Capercaillie albums. I love “Sidewaulk” but competition is fierce at the top and I’m going to have to put it fourth, narrowly sidling in front of “Crosswinds.”

Ratings: 4 stars

Some music just makes you feel glad to be alive, and that’s what Capercaillie’s “Sidewaulk” has always done for me. Whether the songs are somber dirges filled with loss or joyous fiddle reels shaking the boards of the dance floor, this record always leaves me feeling like my soul has been rejuvenated.

This was one of the reasons Celtic folk music first called to me back in the early nineties; it just makes you feel something.

It all begins with Karen Matheson’s voice, which is sweet like wine and strong like iron. I can’t think of anyone who sounds so powerful and pure hitting such high notes. On “Fisherman’s Dream” when Karen asks what happened to the lost dreams of the fisherman, you want to get in a boat and go help her look for them. As much as I recently heaped praise on Jimmy Rankin for his song “Fisherman’s Son,” Capercaillie leaves the Rankins in the dust.

“Iain Ghlinn’ Cuiach” (or “John of Glenn Cuiach”) is a heartbreaker, with just Matheson’s vocal and a lone piano singing the age-old tale of unrequited love. The song ends with a wish of good fortune for the very man who’s broken the singer’s heart. Here it is in Gaelic, and then a translation:

“Ged a chinn thu rium fuar
Bheil thu, Iain, gun truas 's mi 'm chàs
'S a liuthad là agus chuir
Thu 'n céill gum bu bhuan do ghràdh?
Ach ma chaochail mi bhuaidh
'S gun so choisinn mi t'fhuath na t-fhearg
Tha mo bheannachd ad dhéidh
'S feuch an tagh thu dhuit fhéin nas fhèarr

“Although your feelings towards me have turned cold
Are you, John, without pity for me in my plight
When you so often declared
Your undying love for me?
But if I have changed so in character
That I have earned your hatred and anger
My blessings still go with you
And if you can, try to choose someone better”

Hmmm…on second thought this looks a lot like passive aggressive behavior. I’m pretty sure she’s suggesting John’s not going to find the grass greener on the other side of the meadow.

My favourite track is Capercaillie’s cover of Dick Gaughan’s 1979 song “Both Sides the Tweed.” Despite being a song about the betrayal of Scotland in its union with England, the song urges peace between the countries, even as it calls for independence:

“What's the spring-breathing jasmine and rose,
What's the summer, with all its gay train,
What's the splendor of autumn, to those
Who've barter'd their freedom for gain?

“Let the love of our land's sacred rights,
To the love or our people succeed;
Let friendship and honour unite,
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.”

That is some pretty poetry and Matheson’s vocals (accentuated artfully by Marc Duff’s recorder) further underscore almost three hundred years of Scottish soul searching.

The album has some amazing instrumentals, each featuring the brilliant Charlie McKerron on fiddle. I’ve never heard a better folk fiddler than McKerron and “Sidewaulk” has some of his finest work including “Balindore” and “The Turnpike” both of which are medleys that mix traditional Scottish fiddle songs with original Capercaillie compositions. The modern additions are every bit the equal of the classics and McKerron plays with his usual perfect mix of precision and passion.

This is an early Capercaillie album, and they haven’t incorporated a lot of world beats and rhythms that come on later albums. I like their later experiments, but I also admire “Sidewaulk’s” stark and honest beauty.

Best tracks:  Fisherman’s Dream, Iain Ghlinn’ Cuaich, The Turnpike, Both Sides the Tweed,

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