A four-person (two men, two women) vocal group from Scotland, Cruinn specializes in Gaelic song, both traditional and tradition-inspired. Though it doesn't really sound a whole lot like them, you could think of Cruinn as a Scottish counterpart to the late, much celebrated, and very English Watersons.
For those who don't know the language, the liner notes considerately provide translations. From them I learn that "Griogal Cridhe," possessed of a gorgeous melody that could as easily represent pastoral reflection or romantic longing, owes its origins to a 16th-century clan feud, resulting in ... well, read it yourself:
Great sweetheart of all people of the world
They poured your blood yesterday
And they put your head on an oak stick
A short distance from your body.
So it is with ballads everywhere: some of the most evocative tunes are reserved for the songs that relate the most horrific human acts.
Not everything on Storas (a word meaning riches or abundance) is this grim, fortunately. Each of the dozen tracks has its own distinctive tune and tone. The singing, both solo and harmony, conjures up a land of austere beauty, occasionally enlivened by a celebratory piece such as the irresistible "Ceilidh na Bliadhna," concerning the joys of a ceilidh on the Isle of Eriskay.
Cruinn consists of James Graham, Fiona Mackenzie, Brian O'hEadhra and Rachel Walker. All but Mackenzie play various instruments to supplement the voices. Three other musicians back them on fiddles, guitars and whistles. Though these are modern arrangements, they work to fashion a sound that feels not just old but ancient, or maybe "eternal" is the apposite word. The power of Storas, at moments almost overwhelming, employs a language unfamiliar to most of us, from a place most of us will never experience, to speak to the deepest realities of our shared human experience.
music review by
21 March 2015