Bann - Breabach Album Review
For the uninitiated (that's me included), the name 'Breabach' is a term used in the 'ancient Scottish Highland method of noting or scoring Gaelic pipe music' – basically, it's a 'grace' note and if you care to read more fascinating and, one has to say, VERY intricate details about music from the Highlands, there's a site called Wikipedia that might help you.
Thankfully, Breabach have christened their latest album with a far simpler word and concept. "Bann" means 'connecting', as in binding together as a band, a descriptive definition that certainly serves a purpose, both as a CV of the group themselves and of their truly welcoming brew of heady musical and lyrical banter.
The core quintet hail from five different parts of Scotland - bagpiper Calum MacCrimmon originates from Canada but moved to Scotland at an early age, bassist Jamie is from Aberdeenshire, fiddle-player Megan is a Fort William girl, guitarist Ewan was educated in Plockton close to Skye and piper James has previously been an islander on the Western Isles. Their choice of music isn't all stereotypical heather-clad scrubland or peat fires on stormy nights – "Mogaisean" is a traditional Norwegian piece, while "Western Skies" draws influence from Canada, telling the story of Calum's childhood journey from his homeland to new pastures – but ultimately, it is Scottish folklore that glues the various stories and instrumentals together.
Breabach's reputation for stirring live performance, almost rewarded with a nomination for Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2011, is prevalent throughout "Bann". Intricate without being fussy, passionate without the bluster and modern without being disrespectful to tradition, it's the instrumental passages on this album that are truly uplifting. "Donald's Rant", "Farley Bridge" and the opener "Glasgow of the Big Shops" (a sort of folky retail-therapy homage) aren't necessarily the stuff of boozed-up Ceildhs, being of a slower-paced hybrid, but their positivity is infectious.
Karine Polwart, one of Scotland's most-respected songwriters, is given props on the track "Rivers Run", both in vocal and theme renditions plus, for the most part, you get traditional and group-composed reels and 'strathspeys' throughout the remaining cuts. And for fans of spine-tingling piping, check out the final two minutes of "Scotland's Winter", as atmospheric and emotional as you can possibly get (not forgetting to listen to the preceding four minutes as well!).
With such a strong album under their belts, young Breabach might have to sort out more UK dates later this year as I have a feeling they'll be leaving quite a mark during their current winter tour and calls for repeated visits.
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