In the dying days of Celtic Connections we heard that good friends of Blabber’n’Smoke, Old Dollar Bill were venturing west to support Mairi Orr at an Open Stage gig. The Open stage is a free daily show featuring several artists who have the opportunity to play to a very appreciative audience. It’s one of Celtic Connections’ finer aspects and was inspired by the late and great Danny Kyle.
Anyway, Mairi, originally from Morar in the west Highlands but now living in Edinburgh, appeared with her “borrowed band,” and delivered a fine set featuring songs from her sparkling debut disc, The Gathering Crows that went down a treat. Intrigued we sought a copy and for the past two weeks have been very impressed.
The Gathering Crows is a five song collection with all titles written by Orr and featuring support from Stephen Clark and Ed Henry of Old Dollar Bill among others. It positively bursts at the seams with a vibrant quality and the maturity of the writing and playing is unexpected from someone just stepping onto the stage.
Orr’s voice has a magnificent presence. Strong and melodic she could fit well into that pantheon that includes Sandy Denny, Linda Thompson, Jacqui McShee and in particular the enigma that is Shelagh McDonald. The latter is particularly recalled on two songs here, the title song and the opening For Gold. Both songs are baleful tales, chilling in their delivery with some superb backing, the Dobro in For Gold snakes menacingly throughout while on The gathering Crows the guitar, mandolin, bass and percussion thrash together in a propulsive audio equivalent of a murder of crows. A third song, Will You is delivered very much in a folk style that does recall early Denny and it features some exquisite fiddle by Amy Geddes. The two remaining songs display a more American influence. Sweet One has an urgency that owes a debt to bluegrass while Two Different States of Mind features just Orr and banjo from Mark Woods on a tantalising murder ballad.
A great debut and a mention must be made of the excellent supportive players, Stephen Clark, Ed Henry, Hugh Kelly, Mark Woods and Amy Geddes who all add a very authentic and well played backdrop to Ms. Orr’s very talented delivery.