With almost 20 years between their second and third album, a mere four years waiting for their fourth is less than we had reason to fear. And yes, the line up is the same as last time, Derek Hoy, John Croall, Ian Hardie, Rod Paterson and Norman Chalmers, five out of six who made the classic The Lasses Fashion in the early 1980s. For those of you too young to have memories of this I can tell you it is one of my favourite albums of all time and contains my absolute favourite album track of all time, “Lady Keith’s Lament.” If you add that the legendary folk’n’swingsters The Easy Club were born out of the original Jock Tamson’s Bairns you can sense high expectations building up here. So the big question is, does the new album meet those expectations?
It starts off with the song “Blythe Blythe and Merry Was She,” sung by Paterson, and from the first bar you know these men mean serious business. Rocking might not be the word to use, but it is a very rhythmic track, with the jaw harp used to great effect. A track that would not have been out of place neither on The Lasses Fashion nor on an Easy Club album.
There are six songs in all on the album, each one a gem. Croall sings “The Fause Knight on the Road,” a version of the song recorded twice by Steeleye Span. The Bairns add a bit of musical mystic to it, with some intriguing rhythms. Paterson is back for “The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray.” It is a piece of cross-cultural thinking with Scottish lyrics married to a Swedish song tune. Slow and majestic, with beautiful harmonies by Croall and Hardie.
Croall takes the lead on “Aye Waukin’ O,” a song attributed to Robert Burns. Once again it is a slow, emotional song, with simple but effective guitar picking to back the vocals. “The Soor Milk Cairt” is a lovely ditty composed by Tom Johnston in the 1880s. If you have ever wondered how a verse would sound only accompanied by a harmonica and a triangle, here is your chance to find out. The closing “The Bogend Hairst” starts like an old country ballad, with guitar and harmonica, but after a few bars it turns into one of those slow Scottish songs Paterson masters so well.
Six sings, half the album. The other six are instrumentals, with the Bairns showing they both master the fast and lively reels as in the set starting with “Da Grocer” and the jazzy Easy Club-styled backings in “Coire Mhic Fhearchair.” But in my book they are at their best when they slow down and go for the airs. “Scotch Cap” is a perfect example, as is “Baba Mo Leonabh.”
I never really took to the last album, May You Never Lack a Scone, but after hearing this I think it is time to go back and check again. Cause Rare is really something special. Maybe not quite another “The Lasses Fashion,” but almost. Had Jock Tamson’s Bairns been 25 years younger we would have hailed them as the new Messiahs of Scottish folk, now we just get proof that these lads know their craft and that they still can deliver the goods.