A Primitive Baptist hymn singer once said to me that she thought all of the old tunes sung in that tradition came from the Outer Hebrides and other Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland. Based on what I knew about Baptist origins in southern Britain, it seemed unlikely. She told me I should just listen to some of the singers from the region. So, I bought this CD.
Well, I don't know if there is much to that sort of speculation, but the similarity between the two traditions is more than a little uncanny. The homophonic chant of a congregation following the leader as he lines out each line sounds at once familiar and other-worldly. To anyone who is familiar with Scottish psalmody, this record will be a shock. Tunes which bear identical names to those found in the Scottish Psalter bear almost no sonic resemblance to them. It may be that the "bones" of the tune have been lost through the weaving melismas that have passed through the oral tradition, but I cannot hear even a hint of the tunes I know by the names "Coleshill" or "Martyrdom."
Listening to this wonderful disc, I could not help wondering if this was the sound that Burns had in mind when he wrote:
"They chant their artless notes in simple guise,
They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim;
Perhaps Dundee's wild-warbling measures rise;
Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name;
Or noble Elgin beets the heaven-ward flame;
The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays:
Compar'd with these, Italian trills are tame"
Compared with Gaelic psalmody, the Lowland tunes are tame!
I love this disc and would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the fringes Christian hymnody, or to anyone who has been enchanted by the singing of the Old Regular and Primitive Baptists of Appalachia. The melodies are full of pathos and depth - a far cry from "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam."