Twelve well-made recordings of songs by Robert Burns would make a good CD and a constructive public offering, but My Hearts in the Highlands provides 20, including such favorites as the title song and "Auld Lang Syne." The selections are performed by 17 different singers, eight different guitarists, and an abundant host of others on accordion, bouzouki, fiddle, flute, mandolin, percussion, and more. Still, the disc achieves amazing unity. This is not to be confused with monotony: Youll find a great variety of voices, tempos, melodies, chord progressions, and arrangements -- listening pleasure for the long haul, with many surprises and thrills.
The unity has to do with a few key performance and production qualities throughout: clear, straightforward folk-style singing with emotion appropriate to each songs content; mixing that showcases the vocals so the lyrics are always distinct -- especially important for songs by a great poet; and polished and succinct instrumental parts, with no extended jams. The tracks were culled from a much more extensive series whose continuity must have posed quite a challenge: The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, a 12-CD archive, also from Linn Records, recorded and released between 1996 and 2002.
Not having perused the entire set, I cannot say whether the consistent excellence of the performances on this album reflects their superiority to others among the total 360-plus tracks, but it is hardly conceivable that the obvious love and devotion that produced Highlands could have let any clunkers get through. One possible frustration some fellow folksingers might share with me: Burns wrote in dialect that makes so many of the songs difficult for us parochial Americans to add to our own repertoires. I look at the bright side: With a fairly homogeneous modern English sweeping the human world, this collection is a rare gem to cherish for its own inherent beauty.
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