Album Review
Sail On

"Folk Roots"

It's been a while - what with Clan Alba diversions - since the man produced a solo album, and a recent folk club gig showed Gaughan performing at his best. So for those waiting with baited breath, the thumbnail sketch review ... it's brilliant.

If anyone is still left reading, on the first play Gaughan keeps you on the edge of your seat, trying to guess just where he's going next - subsequent spins just reveal more and more delights. The opening up-tempo Allan Taylor love song for Scotland (Land of the North Wind) complete with wailing electric guitar, drums, piano and backing vocals, is followed by a similarly orchestrated Son of Man, (Gaughan's own philosophical look at the use and abuse of Christianity). One is mindful of the old thesis that inside every folk singer is a heavy metal freak trying to get out, and then ...

And then he smacks you round the ears with a luminously sensitive and impassioned treatment of Ruby Tuesday (yes, that Ruby Tuesday), with just acoustic guitar, Mary MacMaster on clarsach and his own inimitable accent. Worth buying the album for this track alone, it knocks both the Rolling Stones and Melanie into a cocked hat, if you ask me.

And so it goes. Pete Seeger's ever-relevant Waist Deep in the Big Muddy is simply and angrily sung against Gaughan's idiosyncratic guitar rhythms, while No Cause for Alarm comes with rock back line, wailing Hammond organ and five-piece backing vocals. Neither really prepare you for a stunning revisit to Hamish Henderson's 51st (Highland) Division's Farewell to Sicily. A self-confessed obsession, this version lasts for nearly twelve minutes, and sounds like it's over in a flash.

Track by track reviews incur the editor's wrath, but it seems impossible not to mention Brian MacNeill's No Gods and Precious Few Heroes or an emotive 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (his first cover of a Richard Thompson song). If Ruby Tuesday doesn't get you singing along, then the chorus of Geronimo's Cadillac or Sail On will. And somehow, Fred Morrison's pipes fading out the final Freedom Come All Ye provide not only the perfect conclusion but bring the whole thing back full circle as well.

The album has been recorded with the minimum of intervention, and has a liveliness one hears all too rarely. The anger and passion come through unadulterated - so does the tenderness. Play it loud, and play it often - sheer genius doesn't just come in pint glasses.


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