Review of Brian Nicolson’s new CD Fae Da Crossroads
I guess the most surprising thing about Fae Da Crossroads, Brian Nicholson’s debut ‘solo’ album, is simply that it’s taken so long to actually come about.
Having said that, it may equally be termed a surprise that he’s actually found time to take time out from his many other musical commitments to do his own thing.
Few would dispute that Brian is probably the hardest working man in local musical circles – already famed for being a hugely important part of bands such as Hom Bru, No Sweat, the Sheila Henderson Band, the Fabulous Ramstams and of course as one part of the nationally acclaimed traditional duo with two-times Glenfiddich Scottish Fiddle Champion Maggie Adamson – let alone many other musical ‘side projects’ too numerous to mention here.
Oh, and of course the no small matter of running a music ‘store’. Indeed the word “busy” hardly begins to sum up his commitment to, and boundless enthusiasm for, music in Shetland.
“I really dunna have time for muckle else” he said recently when I asked him what his interests were outside of music. Now there’s a surprise!!!!
So here we have it – Brian Nicholson solo and stripped bare (metaphorically and musically speaking of course): just a man, his guitar and his voice – augmented only by sparse but hugely complimentary additional instrumentation and backing vocals; an approach that works really well for an album such as this.
Two words more or less entirely sum up the feelings, emotions and playing and singing contained in from Fae Da Crossroads – and that’s “down home”. The whole album not only has the warm, intimate feel that perhaps only a true, fully acoustic, home recording can create – done simply and straightforwardly by the ‘sheek’ o da fire – but it’s pretty much a family affair. It was recorded by Brian’s son Arthur (who also adds guitar, mandolin and backing vocals) with Maggie Adamson on occasional fiddle and also features further backing vocals supplied by Brian’s two daughters Hannah and Megan.
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However, home recordings or family involvements are not the only aspects to reinforce the ‘down home’ analogy. Fae Da Crossroads is very much a Shetland album in the true sense of the word, with almost all the songs and tunes having local content, sentiments or attachment. The devil is in the detail, with no less than15 of the 16 tracks contained here having been penned locally over the years (including by Brian himself of course) and with eight of the songs also sung in Shetland dialect. It’s very clear from this that Brian is very proud of his Shetland roots as well as his musical ones.
Focus in still further though and you realise where Brian’s ‘down-home’ heart still firmly lies – his home island of Yell. The album title itself refers to the place Brian was born and brought up (also depicted on the CD imprint) while at least five of the tracks also have direct Yell ‘connections’ – four of them alone penned by the wonderful Yell wordsmith that was Bobby Tulloch.
Elsewhere there are the inevitable nods to the many diverse musical genres Brian has acquainted himself with over the years. Country, traditional, contemporary and jazz influences all get an inclusion here. Trying to fit all such influences in to one relatively small package could potentially have made for a very fragmented album, but the application of sound musical thinking and production means that it all hangs together really well indeed.
There are moments of real instrumental beauty (Isles o Gletness, Fountainbridge, The Skerries Sang and Waxwing Swing); humour (Blue Whiting, Du Picked a Fine Time tae Fa By Da Streen, Jeemie Wis a Batchelor and Single Track Roads); songs of real beauty and feeling (Back My Way Again and Too Scared to Care); traditional songs (Pressgang Sang, Farewell to Yell and the Merry Boys o Greenland) and……well much more besides!!!!
So Fae Da Crossroads is not only an all-encompassing musical tapestry that epitomises Brian’s incredibly diverse approach to music making, but is also nothing less than a very personal snap-shot of what makes the man himself ‘tick’ in this respect.
Arthur and Maggie for their part weave complimentary musical textures into this tapestry, and the fact that it’s all done acoustically not only creates that warm, homely atmosphere I referred to earlier, and allows it to permeate through, but this approach additionally allows for a clarity of playing and performance that proves easy to access. In short, everything laid bare as I said earlier.
This is a long overdue album that will not only delight locals of all musical persuasions, but will also tug at the heart-strings of those Shetlanders flung further afield – especially at this time of year.
All in all a genuinely engaging and at times fun album and a very personal statement from one of Shetland’s most accomplished and acclaimed musicians.
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