Kris Drever is almost becoming ubiquitous on the folk circuit in one incarnation or another. He is one third of folk heavyweights Lau, and also one third of Drever, McCusker and Woomble – featuring Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble.
And somewhere in amongst all that he had time to record his second album – Mark the Hard Earth produced by John McCusker and featuring many of the artists Kris has been working with over the last few years. Even if folk music isn’t your normal staple Mark The Hard Earth is well worth a listen. It should challenge the ‘folkie’ stereotype of four old geezers in Aran Sweaters singing diddly dee.
The opening track is written by Kris himself, and it gets the record off to a great start. Although not a prolific song writer, (this is the only track on the album which he has written) Kris’s writing is thought provoking, and provides a sound platform for both his excellent guitar skills, and his distinctive voice. The track starts quietly – just Kris and his guitar, and gradually builds as vocal harmonies are added, then a little percussion, and strings. The next track ‘This Old Song’ again starts with just Kris on guitar, but this one has a quite different feel – written by America songwriter Caleb Klauder, this one is more of a sing along. Next up we have the first of two songs from fellow Scot Sandy Wright – Shining Star, which waltzes along gently, with an instrumental section in the middle – some very gentle fiddling taking the lead for a while. And this is about as close as the album gets to having any purely instrumental tracks. This is a departure from the format of the debut album. Black Water contained two instrumental medleys, but this on this one has all tracks feature Kris’s rich vocals.
‘Allegory’ introduces the backing vocals from Heidi Talbot, one of the best female singers around the British folk scene at the moment. She adds additional depth with her sweet harmonies, and really bring the track alive. Boo Hewerdine’s contribution to this album is ‘Sweet Honey In The Rock’ – at least the words are credited to Boo, with the music supplied by John McCusker. This is a cheerful song, with a nice sing along chorus, but is laced with Biblical references – Deuteronomy 32:13 mentions “wild honey among the rocks” – showing a more serious side to both composer and performer. And there’s also some handy advice on how to get to heaven!
Kris also slips in a love song penned by none other than Rabbie Burns – ‘O’ A’ the Airts’. This started life as a poem by Rabbie written for the love of his life, Jean Armour. For those not familiar with the lowland Scots dialect in use during the second half of the 18th Century, “O’A’ the airts the wind can blaw” can be translated as “Of all the directions the wind can blow” but after that you’re on your own – you’ll get the hang of it, I’m sure. This is fitting tribute to one of Scotland’s favourite sons on the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth. The next track, ‘Crown of London’ sounds traditional too, but in fact was written by Kris’s brother Duncan. This serves to illustrate the diversity of the music presented in this album – different continents, different centuries, and yet all sitting comfortably together, and brought to life by this very talented young man. ‘Freedom come A’ ye’ rounds things off with some fine work by Karine Polwart on backing vocals.
All in all a very competent production and a great CD to listen to – thanks no doubt to the considerable talents of John McCusker, and also to the great wealth of talent that Kris is able to draw upon, songwriters, musicians, and singers. And of course, we must not to forget Kris’s own considerable talents both as a guitarist, and as a truly versatile singer.