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  • Personnel: Julie Fowlis (vocals, ukulele); amon Doorley (guitar, bouzouki); Tony Byrne (guitar); Su-a Lee (cello); Donald Shaw (piano, harmonium); Ewen Vernal (double bass).
  • Audio Mixer: Calum Malcolm.
  • Recording information: Beechpark Studios, Rathcoole, CO; Coupe Studios, Boulder, CO; Studio Mhic an Daill, Dingle.
  • Photographer: Craig MacKay.
  • Having single-handedly raised the worldwide profile of Scottish Gaelic and established herself as the world's foremost interpreter of its traditional song, Julie Fowlis has perhaps surmised that she has nothing left to prove in that regard, and so has decided to do something a bit different with this, her fifth studio album. Fans need not fear that she is going to crack out an electric guitar and a laptop, however; this is still very much a traditional folk album, with just a few subtle yet undeniable differences from what has come before. Probably the most obvious is the inclusion of songs in languages other than Gaelic, notably English. Fowlis has sung in English before, most visibly on the two songs she recorded for the soundtrack of Disney's Brave, but has never before recorded a song with lyrics completely in English on any of her own albums. Here there are two: Annie Briggs' bittersweet "Go Your Way" (on which Fowlis accompanies herself on the ukulele -- another first) and the proto-feminist "Windward Away" by Archie Fisher, on which she is backed by the great Mary Chapin Carpenter. The latter is stunningly beautiful, sweeping away any possible reservations on the part of her fans; she sings just as sublimely in English as in Gaelic. The third language sung on the record is Galician, on the lovely, bilingual "Camarias," which sees Julie joined by Gillebride MacMillan, who has translated the song's lyrics into Gaelic. In addition to the aforementioned ukulele, there are a couple of other instrumental surprises. The haunting "Oran an Rin" prominently features the shruti box, a drone instrument more commonly heard in Indian classical music, and "Dh'irich Mi Moch Madainn Chethar" has almost a pop sensibility, with multi-tracked, overdubbed vocals strongly reminiscent of Enya. Elsewhere it's largely business as usual, though of course, because it's Fowlis and her band, that means work a significant cut above the rest of the pack. Other highlights include album opener "A Phiuthrag 's a Phiuthar" (boasting a lush, sweeping string arrangement) and the two lively puirt beul sets, "Thid Mi do Loch Alainn" and "Fear a' Bhrochain/Dmhnall Binn." The album is themed around "the otherworld" and as a result some of the subject matter is quite eerie and dark, but this is a more upbeat album in general than its predecessor, Gach Sgeul, and more varied, resulting in a more immediate listen. The only slight disappointment is the omission of lyrics and sleeve notes (though they are available online). Ultimately, this is another seemingly effortless triumph for Fowlis, sending her career to new and previously uncharted heights. ~ John D. Buchanan
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