A stunningly soulful collection of classic Scottish ballads performed by two folk music legends, in their very first of what would be many collaborations. Recorded in 1959 and issued on compact disc for the first time last fall.
When the folk music revival hit the UK, the great Scottish singer Ewan MacColl sought out instrumental backing for the ballads he had been singing his whole life. In 1956 MacColl met Peggy Seeger, the daughter of two leading American ethnomusicologists and the sister of folk musicians Pete & Mike Seeger. Seeger's scholarly folk music accompaniment was a welcome change from the local jazz and classical players with whom he had been associating. Their collaboration was most fruitful and harmonious. As a bonus they fell in love.
Classic Scots Ballads, was the first of many recorded collaborations between Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger. At the time of these recordings, precious few of these ballads had been heard in America in their beautiful and expressive Scottish lowlands dialect or even in song form at all. The more common of these ballads having evolved into American English or spoken as poetry. This collection of 14 songs, songs of work and love and war, found Ms. Seeger adding supporting vocals, guitar and banjo to MacColl's usually unaccompanied traditional ballads.
In the notes provided by Peggy Seeger on the occasion of it's reissue she somewhat apologetically states that their attempt to marry these traditionally unaccompanied ballads with popular guitar and banjo was a nieve and ill fated experiment. She complains that these recordings, which were made when they "were deeply in love and embarking on a partnership in music and in life" caused them to "wander into a cultural minefield", and "did not present the songs in an authentic setting".
That is precisely why this record is has such lasting power. You can here these lovers hearts groan as they harmonize and learn each others ways on this record. While an American ear may not understand MacColl's Scots lowland dialect, the soulful "dark chocolate" way the love songs are sung make them all heartbreaker's in the most joyous sense of the word. Peggy Seeger's embarrassment over her attempted Scottish accent and folk music rhythms are unnecessarily academic in light of the obvious delight they take in singing together, and the spirit it brings to these songs. No sweeter harmony is sung than by two people in love..
Classic Scots Ballads was recorded in 1959 by folk singer Robin Roberts for Tradition Records, the American record label started in 1955 by Diane Hamilton, that The Clancy Brothers were running in New York City before they hit the big time. The label was sold in the early sixties and was stripped of any credibility, with fake stereo versions of the LP's being issued without original artwork or liner notes and often the artists going uncredited. With the compact disc resurrection of the Tradition label, Rykodisc has gone a long way towards righting the tragedy of this great folk music label, which in it's time was a contemporary of, and comparable to the Elektra or Folkways record labels. Classic Scots Ballads has been reissued with the original notes to the songs by Ewan MacColl and new notes by Peggy Seeger. Unfortunately, for continuity, the Tradition label's beautiful original album covers are replaced by (sometimes absurd) photographs for this series from Rykodisc. Luckily, in this case there is a fine and glowing photograph of the two replacing the original painted cover.