Karen Marshalsay – The Road to Kennacraig (Cramasie Records. CRCD001. CD review by Patrick Hadfield)
The road to Kennacraig is the road to Islay, where Karen Marshalsay wrote the tune the gives its name to this album. It is fitting, too: the music the CD contains evokes a west coast feeling and a longing for salt air, Atlantic rollers and peaty whisky. Whilst my emotions might be clichéd, the music is not.
Marshalsay plays three different forms of harp – clarsach, bray harp and gut-strung harp – and, occasionally, whistle. Without Marshalsay’s liner notes I doubt I could tell one harp from another, although I now recognise the distinctive sound of the bray harp’s pegs on the strings. What is clear is the depth and passion in Marshalsay’s music.
The tunes are a mixture of traditional pieces arranged by Marshalsay and her own compositions, including several sections from an extended work, Thomas the Rhymer. Whatever the source, the music fits together seamlessly. Her arrangements of pieces originally for the pipes have a plangent quality.
That many traditional tunes originated as dances is clear from the rhythms; it is hard to sit still while listening to this CD. The music isn’t sentimental, but perhaps I am: the music plucks the heart strings as subtly as Marshalsay plucks her harps.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.