FolkWords Reviews

‘Garvellach Isles’ from Head North - quality always works and this works very well

(July 11, 2016)

Sited in The Minch off the West Coast of Scotland, the Garvellach are an isolated group of outlying Scottish islands, it’s also the second album from Head North. This particular ‘Garvellach Isles’ offers 14 tracks ranging widely through interpretations of the Scottish musical tradition to heritage-inspired originals ... foot-stomping to Garvellach - head northheart-touching. The result is an album of considerable quality, clear musical strength with equally obvious vocal potency, and if ‘Garvellach Isles’ receives the hearing it richly deserves then there should be no isolation for Head North.  

From the jaunty opening set ‘The Inverness Gathering’ to fine versions of ‘The Isle of St Helena’ and ‘Both Sides the Tweed’, displaying the band’s musical diversity and rich mix of male and female lead vocals, to the multi-layered ‘The Métis Set’ reflecting Scotland’s influence on the aboriginal peoples of Canada, and the subtle allure of the original ‘Garvellach Isles’. There’s nothing ‘in your face’ about this album, it works its magic in a quiet unassuming way and therein lies much of its attraction. A ‘slow burn’ though it may be, quality always works, and ‘Garvellach Isles’ works very well ... to witness this listen to their spellbinding take on Dougie MacLean’s iconic ‘Caledonia’ with its inspired female lead vocal, intricate instrumentals ‘Islay Ranters Reels’ and ‘The Sound of Sleat’, and their gentle expression through ‘The Parting Glass’.

Their freshness of approach and readily apparent vivacity, augmented by an ability to present tradition, in its widest sense, through arrangements and self-penned tunes, must lead this band towards a bright future. In short, in the intensely-populated world of music, Head North is worth noticing and ‘Garvellach Isles’ an album worth owning. Find Head North here: www.headnorth.org.uk

Head North are Robert Sword (keyboards, guitar, electric guitar, 5-string banjo, Rhodes, bass, shaker, cajon) Hamilton Gross (fiddle) Mike Holgate (mandolin, banjo) Rachel Reed (vocals, flute, bodhran) Andrew Rose (acoustic guitar, harmonica) Rachel Thomas (vocals, bass, tin whistle) Simon Thomas (vocals, bass guitar, acoustic bass) and Roddy Watt (accordion). 

Review: Tim Carroll

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