Sunday, January 24, 2010

It seems a good time to recommend Eddi Reader's Deluxe Edition of The Songs of Robert Burns. It got her an MBE in 2006. The original album contained 11 tracks, ending in 'Auld Lang Syne' but she has since added 7 more songs. As such, it can be heard as two sequences, like an LP.

To those who don't know Burns's work well, it's a fine primer. It contains 'My Love is Like a Red Red Rose,' Dylan's 'inspiration,' according to the MTV campaign, and his 'Highlands' was inspired by a slight poem by Burns.

It also contains 'Green Grow the Rashes O,' his tribute to women:

The sweetest hours that e'er I spent
were spent among the lasses, O

whose title forms the chorus of REM's 'Green Grow the Rushes' and, according to some, the source of the word 'gringo.' The men of the 71st regiment of Foot (Macleod's Highlanders) who were taken prisoner in Buenos Aires in 1806 loved singing the song so much that they were nicknamed 'green-grows' by the Spanish born population.

'Ae Fond Kiss' was written to mark the end of Burns and Nancy McLehose's love affair. 'These exquisitely affecting stanzas contain the essence of a thousand love tales,' wrote Sir Walter Scott. It's sung by Eddi with the knowledge that however much he pledged his love, Burns still returned to his wife.

She closes the expanded album with 'A' all the Airts,' a love song written to his wife and mother of his children, Jean.

Throughout, Eddi is backed by a fantastic band which includes John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine, and the lyrics are clearly the result of a vibrant oral tradition:

there's ne'er a flower that blooms in May that's half so welcome as thou art

is *one* line from 'Willie Stewart.' It's a pleasure to hear it all fit together.

There are also lines more complex in meaning, such as:

Deep in heart wrung tears I'll pledge thee
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Burns wrote with little concern for the range of the human voice, fitting his lyrics to fiddle melodies. As a consequence, his songs have commonly been performed by baritone and classically-trained singers. Eddi has changed this, putting the lyrics' meaning first.

Here is a writer like Dickens, Dylan or Shakespeare, who can be enjoyed by everyone.

Read Don Patterson on Robert Burns

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