"The Harp Key" by Alison Kinnaird

"Treasures of the Celtic Harp" by Kim Robertson

"Fonnsheen" by Fiona Davidson

"Harper's Dream" by Deborah Friou

reviewed by Lahri Bond


This medley of reviews originally appeared in Dirty Linen Magazine and

appears here with the kind permission of the author.


Albums of music played on the Celtic harp used to be like well-treasured, rare butterflies, but now they are as common as grain moths. So how does one distinguish between the towering stacks of finely plucked offerings available everywhere? Much of the resurgence of popularity in the Celtic harp can be traced to the work of one woman: Alison Kinnaird. She wrote the book (literally) on the Celtic harp and particularly the Scottish harp and wire strung clarsach.

With the release of the masterfully researched and gorgeously rendered album Crann nan Teud (The Harp Key) in 1978, she defined once and for all what a thing of beauty the instrument can be. Temple Records has now reissued that seminal album on CD with two additional tracks. Kinnaird has always had a finely honed ear for a tune and melody and her choice of material for this album reflects that. The selection is almost entirely traditional, with highlights including "Kiliecrankie," "Rory Dall's Port," "Grantown on Spey" and the Kinnaird composed ode to the semi-mythical figure of Thomas the Rhymer, simply titled "The Rymer." "Fliuch an Oidhche/Heman Dubh" is also a standout track, with Kinnaird and fellow harpers Wendy ( Ceolbeg ) Stewart and Patsy ( Sìleas ) Seddon adapting a set of waulking songs to the harp. On a few tracks she is joined by a well chosen set of musicians, including piper Jimmy Anderson, and Boys of the Loch members Dave Richardson on mandolin, whistle player Cathal McConnell, Robin Morton on concertina and Aly Bain's distinctive fiddling. Extensive liner notes complete the welcomed return of one of the finest harp albums ever recorded.

 

Along with Kinnaird, Kim Robertson is also considered one of the harp's best advocates. While Kinnaird plays mostly the Scottish style wire-strung clarsach, Robertson plays the more modern Irish styled nylon-strung "Celtic Harp." On her latest release she solos on 16 songs, ranging from Ireland, Scotland, and the Shetland Islands. She has also included four songs which are originals. The sound of the nylon strung harp is lighter and more ethereal, yet under Robertson's command it still retains a lovely sense of majesty. Some outstanding renditions of traditional tunes are "Moving Cloud," "Merrily Kiss the Quaker," and "Waulking O the Fault." The fact that Robertson's originals, such as "Boundless," "New Leaves," and "Etude," sit so well among the more ancient tunes says much for her powers of composition and her understanding of the music.

 

On Deborah Friou's first Celtic harp recording, Renaissance Muse, she drew on the lute repertoire of Scotland, England, Italy and France to produce exquisitely played ballads and country dance music from the 16th and 17th centuries. On her second release, Harper's Dream, she now focuses her attention on the traditional music of the British Isles.Like Robertson she plays the nylon strung harp and this recording of solo pieces includes renditions of "Morrison's Jig," "Neil Gow's Lament," a selection of less-often performed O'Carolan pieces, and her own captivating composition, "Harper's Dream."

 

Last but by no means least is Fiona Davidson, who is a Scottish harper, singer and storyteller. The title of her album, Fonnsheen, comes from the Gaelic word meaning "fairy music." Davidson's music embodies both the quiet peace of the land and the wild nature of its elemental inhabitants. Her intricate harp playing and her soothing, robust voice give the entire album a sense of well-grounded excitement. Her Gaelic singing, especially "Griogal Cridhe (Gregor of My Heart)," a lament by the wife of the exiled Chief of the Clan MacGregor, and her handling of mouth music and waulking songs is truly impressive. On several tracks she is joined by a band consisting of ex-Battlefield Band piper Dougie Pincock, fiddler Debbie Swanson, woodwind player Peter Duggan and Nick Turner on bass and keyboards, though the album is primarily devoted to the glorious singing and playing of Davidson herself.

 

Alison Kinnaird, The Harp Key,Temple COND 1001 reissue

Kim Robertson, Treasures of the Celtic Harp, Dargason Music DMCD-114

Fiona Davidson, Fonnsheen, Watercolour Music FONCD013

Deborah Friou, Harper's Dream, Talisman Recordings TSN 412-CD

 

Copyright © 1998 Lahri Bond

 

About the author ...

 

Lahri Bond is the art director of and a contributing author for Dirty Linen, an internationally distributed magazine that covers folk, electric folk, traditional and world music. As an illustrator and graphic artist, working through his own Massachusetts-based studio Heartswork, he has designed logos, posters, promotional packages, cassette and CD covers for recording studios, clubs and concert venues, as well as numerous dance, theater and musical performances.

In the recent past he has served as the advertising designer for both the Arts Center at Brickyard Pond and Colonial Theatre in Keene, New Hampshire. During this time, he designed posters to promote Johnny Winter, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Jimmy Cliff, Robin Williamson, Richie Havens, Emmylou Harris, John Lee Hooker and many others. He has also created graphics for the Edinburgh Folk Festival, The Iron Horse Music Hall, and The Casco Bay Fiddle Festival. His designs have been used as the covers of CDs by such artists as Iain Matthews and John Coster.


 

"Treasures of the Celtic Harp" is available from

... a harper's garden

 

Other articles you may enjoy ...

 

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"Communion: An Interview with Kim Robertson" by David Michael

"The Carving of the Sirr Harp" by Charlotte O'Faolain Hallett

"An American Harper in Wales" by Jane Valencia

Kim Robertson's Home Page and Newsletter

Harpers Hall & culinary society

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