BLUEFLINT – MAUDY TREE
2011 – Johnny Rock Records
What an absolutely gorgeous album this Edinburgh based band have produced as their follow up to the excellent 2009 debut ‘High bright morning’. They not only share the same record label and home city as old favourites Southern Tenant Folk Union but also share a a genre that blends Scottish folk music with a little Americana to produce sounds that are difficult to compare with anyone else.
This excellent band consists of Deborah Arnott on vocals, banjo and ukulele, Claire Neilson also takes some lead vocals as well as banjo, Roddy Neilson, vocals and fiddle and Hugh Kelly on double bass. The recording is supplemented by various other musicians but the four mentioned are the core members. The songs are all band originals with six being written by Deborah Arnott, four by Claire Neilson and two by Roddy Neilson. Each writer takes lead vocals on their own songs giving a nice contrast throughout the album, but I should add that the two female vocalists harmonies are a match made in heavan! Roddy Neilson is no slouch as a vocalist either. The strong Scottish accents and arrangements give the album a feeling that veers towards Scottish folk music more than Americana but of course the instrumentation, particularly banjo does give it a nice underlying feel that enables the listener to link it to old time American music! When you add the occasional use of mandolin, harmonica, pedal steel and dobro this just about cements that link. In the end though, it doesn’t really matter how you choose to trace the roots and strands of this gorgeous album, it is the songs themselves that are the real strengths.
The overall feeling is of a sad mournfulness, but that by no means applies to every song on the album. There is humour in the Bluegrassy P45 that is a warning to two timing men, preceded by the beautiful I Climbed A Mountain, a sad eerie song with gorgeous female duet vocals and only Roddy Neilsons mournful violin for accompaniment. A quite stunning song! Almost as stunning is the beautifully plaintive love song, Last Waltz that has the feel and atmosphere of one of the old murder ballads (despite not actually being one!) so beloved of the ‘old timey’ musicians of many decades ago. Missed the Boat is a mid tempo song that injects a little lightness with more gorgeous harmonies and warns against the perils of stringing someone along. High Country is a haunting sad tale of life and death in the ‘High country’ that could just as easily transport from the Scottish highlands to the U.S. whilst Mary has Roddie Neilson on lead vocals, backed up by gorgeous female harmonies and is another sad story; this time about a father too busy farming to notice his daughter is going off the rails …… and then it’s too late!
All in all this is an album that contains no filler and despite plenty of eerie darkness the over riding feeling is of great beauty thanks to the lead vocals and harmonies which when blended with the often heartrendingly atmospheric instrumentation makes this a recording that it is at times eerily haunting, at others haunted!