A playlist for “resilience and resistance, cries of despair and dreams of something better.”

This is a review of Karine Polwart’s new album Scottish Songbook. It was released on Friday 2nd August.

What motivates you to buy new music as opposed to streaming a song or listening to a You Tube video?

The answer to that depends how old you are and how set in your ways you are too.

My first single ever was David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ it was 1972 and I was just starting to be interested in girls. It spoke to me through the lyrics about  love and salvation from the skies as it spoke to many other bored teenagers all over the world.

Watching Top of the Pops I was wriggling on the couch against the critical onslaught of parents comments like ‘would you look at the state of him’. When the skinny red haired guy in the spangled jump suit playing the blue guitar spoke the lines ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you’  it was an invitation to hundreds of thousands to dare to be different.

The story did not end well for me as having bought this RCA record from Woolworths it was only a short step towards offering it to the then girl of my dreams, a classmate at school. What I thought was the most romantic gesture ever was spurned with a caustic homophobic comment about the artist not dissimilar to my parents. The charts were not bad in 1972 but my dream girl turned out to be more of the Partridge Family type and wasn’t the ‘Rebel,Rebel’ I thought she was.

The point is songs at different stages of your life mean different things to people. This is what Karine Polwart is seeking to do here with this album. I was aware of her and liked her voice but listening to her being interviewed on radio just the other day made a real connection with me. There could have been a dozen other Scottish songs on this album but she chose these for personal reasons or as she said ‘they say something about where she is from’ and ;

“it’s all about making the songs your own, and singing them with your own heart.”

The album is an eclectic mix of songs from a range of bands.

She spoke very passionately about her music and she really has made the songs her own. Reinventing classics like the Whole of the Moon by the Waterboys, deconstructing the Blue Nile’s Rags to Riches and Deacon Blues Dignity from the album Raintown. You start to get some of the passion and meaning these songs have for her. The themes of “resilience and resistance, cries of despair and dreams of something better” are woven through her reinterpretations of these songs sometimes down in the depths of despair and sometimes looking upward but all the time sung with a steely determination and hopefulness.

For me the album has a certain feel to it, a freshness of hearing songs from the Scottish Songbook in a completely new light.There is a political edge to a few of them as well that conveys a resilience in the face of despair and deindustrialisation. I can connect with that too.

Her reworking of John Martyn’s ‘I don’t want to know’ from the album Solid Air is a powerful message for today’s dark times.

I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know about love
I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know about love
Sometimes it gets so hard to listen
Hard for me to use my eyes
And all around the gold is glistening
Making sure it keeps me down to size

Gerry Rafferty’s Whatever’s written in your heart is wonderfully simple, but the show stopper has to be the treatment of the Ivor Cutler song “women of the world’. It comes out like a hymnal and sounds gorgeous.

Art by Jen Frankwell

Since 1972 I have purchased a lot of music in different ways, vinyl; cassette;cd;mp3. Now you can still have the choice as some great artwork and writing was done to go along with this album. The artist blogged about some of her songs and her release of the Cutler song for International Women’s Day here

Keep enjoying your music however you listen to it but make a spontaneous purchase now and then. Just for the hell of it. It is very refreshing.


Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , , , ,

Leave a Reply