Roddy Woomble is a superb Scottish songwriter and he deserves discovering says Rocky McCabe
In my record collection there is a disturbingly large collection of albums by artists that have never quite made it commercially.This either means I have rubbish taste or that I have great taste and the public don’t. Take your pick, but as Ant and Dec, MacDonalds, the Porky’s films, Cliff Richard and standard lager all sit in the populist camp, I don’t think I’m the problem.Why not check it out for yourself? Go and buy anything by America’s The Jayhawks or Williard Grant Conspiracy, or an album by Grand Drive, Witness, Ian MacNabb or The Icicle Works, artists dripping in passion and rolling in melody, and explain why they’re not all huge.And you can add to that list Scottish band Idlewild, whose last album has more in common with the first five R.E.M.albums than R.E.M. do.I’m not sure whether it was the failure to make the big break that led to their demise, but Idlewild are no more. And now lead singer Roddy Woomble has emerged with a gem of an album of his own, called My Secret Is My Silence.Like Bristol’s Witness, Woomble occupies a territory that is best described as ‘links music’, occupying as it does a space between the land and sea while not quite belonging to either. It has its hands and feet in folk, country and rock, and in acoustic and electric music, without totally embracing any of them.But it’s big music that definitely belongs to Scotland, and to whisky. Rugged Highland and island whisky. Earthy, real whisky.The cover of My Secret… just about sums it all up. Woomble, bearded and with woolly hat, sits on the edge of the field.This is his domain – a decidedly rural location and quite definitely Scottish.And it comes as no surprise to find that folk stalwarts Kate Rusby and John McCusker contribute to several tracks, the former’s majestic vocals instilling soul, the latter’s violin giving it its roots.Woomble’s other key ally is former Idlewild guitarist Rod Jones, who helps the songs soar like golden eagles so that at times they’re skirting Big Country territory.I’d have called this a whisky record even without the direct references, because lyrically it talks of Scottish Highlands and coastlines, and its subject matter is contemplative and at times sad.And on tracks such as As Still As I Watch Your Grave and Every Line of A Long Moment the violin and guitars rise with such Scottish gusto that you almost feel compelled to raise a glass of uisge beathe in salute.But the direct references are there too, on the instrumental Whiskeyface (sic) and on the pivotal title track where Woomble sings: If you ever leave the Highlands like you’re drowning under rain And your sadness tastes like whisky and my body breathe the same It’s emotional, heart on the sleeve stuff and just like whisky Woomble has taken the most basic of ingredients and whipped up an album flowing with nuance and subtlety.There is far too little of this sort of music around now but Woomble has the right to stand alongside the likes of Mike Scott (of The Waterboys) as a Gaelic troubadour.My Secret is my Silence? Quite ridiculous. This album should be heard and the artist be a secret no more.The occasion:
Crispy winter mornings while out in the country.Staring at the sea.Walking up a Ben.Doing anything outdoors in Scotland.What to drink:
Entry point – Old Pulteney 12 years old:Of both land and sea, Highlands and islands.Middle range –Highland Park 18 Year Old.Weighty and earthy enough for this sort of record,but balanced and sophisticated too.Top drawer – Brora 30 year old:Smoke and seaweed and a chunky chewy satisfyingly Highland body that sits perfect with this sort of music.Almost a perfect pairing.
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