Album Review
Sail On

"Dirty Linen"

Dougie MacLean's music has been called the heart and soul of Scotland. If so, then the music of Dick Gaughan must be Scotland's head and conscience.

Gaughan's albums have been few and far between, yet when one does come out it's usually a hearty meal of songs, each to be digested individually and over time. Sail On is just that, and a welcomed solo release, since his recorded efforts with the Scottish super group Clan Alba seem unattainable to most people on this side of the Atlantic.

Joined by members of said supergroup, including harp players Patsy Seddon and Mary MacMaster (both also in Sileas and the Poozies), piper Fred Morrison, and Mike Travis on drums, this is a much more musically diverse and dramatically electric album than Gaughan's usual solo acoustic outtings.

Opening with Alan Taylor's love song to Scotland, Land of the North Wind, it echoes Gaughan's seminal version of Song for Ireland, but with an electric edge. Gaughan has always covered other people's material well enough to make them his own, but on the rare occasion when he writes some of his own songs, they are usually show-stoppers. Three appear on this album, including his biting look at the distortion of Christian ideologies in Son of Man, his call to arms in the rocking No Cause for Alarm, and his song of hope in the title track.

Elsewhere, surprises abound, with a spit and venom version of Pete Seeger's Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (no one can cuss as affectively as Gaughan), a more acoustic but still pointed rendition of Brian MacNeil's No Gods & Precious Few Heroes, and an amazingly tender folk reading of the Rolling Stones' Ruby Tuesday. Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Lightning is given a suitably acoustic setting and Michael J. Murphy's classic Geronimo's Cadillac will have you singing on the choruses. Several Hamish Henderson tunes are also covered, including the astonishingly poetic 51st (Highlander's) Farewell to Sicily, and the album's closer The Freedom Come-All-Ye, an emotional song of internationalism, ironically set to the music of The Bloody Fields of Flanders.

Like all of Gaughan's albums, Sail On bears repeated listenings and each time you will be rewarded by some of the most politically and socially challenging music you're likely to hear anywhere.


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