Kris Drever, John McCusker and Roddy Woomble are all celebrated Scottish musicians in their own rights, so their first collaboration, Before the Ruin, was always going to be a tantalising prospect. Drever is known for his work as one third of Lau, as well as his solo album, Black Water. Woomble is the lead singer of indie band Idlewild and released his debut solo work My Secret is My Silence in 2007 to folk acclaim. McCusker’s folk career can be traced as a producer and performer via Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy, and even Mark Knopfler! Woomble also collaborated on McCusker’s Under One Sky project, bringing folk and rock, English and Scottish traditions together. There are few busier and more exciting Scottish musicians on the scene today. An extra level of excitement (for me at least) is the label number of Navigator 1, the very first release on a label that is fast becoming a folk stalwart. With so much coming together in one record, could it deliver?
I’m pleased to say that the answer is yes. The album plays not as a collaboration, but as a fully-fledged super-group effort. The songs and arrangements are so tight that it is not possible to discern the main writer of any track. Instead they come together as an exciting whole. The melodies reflect the influences of all three band members, both in the choice of instruments, and the rhythms and motifs in use. The lyrics are unashamedly Scottish, not too noticeably, but with their constant references to the sea, the weather, and the natural world. And catchy too. Listening to this album evokes the mountain vistas of Scotland, filled with the joys and pains of life. Roddy Woomble’s vocals soar with emotion over Drever’s at times complex guitar, with McCusker putting just the right amount of fiddle or whistle to complete a powerful effect.
It was difficult for me to choose a standout track, with different ones coming to the fore with each listening. The melodies are dense but accessible, and the lyrics glimpse at something different each time. The production is also very good, and gives an extra quality to everything. But two tracks did eventually stand out for me. ’Before the Ruin’, as the title track, should be something special, and it is. Its chorus is anthemic, and its rhythms pulled at my core - it was impossible not to rock or tap along. When the pipes appear the song goes to another level, and finally it culminates in crashing drums and electric guitars as well.
In contrast, ’The Poorest Company’ showcases the other side of Drever, McCusker and Woomble. One that is quieter, and more musically introspective, but still fantastic. Kris Drever takes the lead on vocals, perfectly suiting the sentiment of the song. In some ways, I was reminded of Martin Simpson in the performance of this track, but this gives way to a unison chorus and haunting whistle. The track gives a real feeling of belonging, that even I, as someone far removed from the Highlands, can be a part of.
The album has plenty of guest performers like Andy Cutting, Philip Selway (Radiohead) and Heidi Talbot, to name a few. All these guests add depth to the tracks with their instrumentation and singing, but without detracting from the main triumvirate. That is the true success of Before the Ruin. In the space of six or seven afternoons in McCusker’s flat (as the story goes), they have created an accomplished album, and an identifiable sound and vision.Liz Osman
Released by Navigator on 15 September 2008.
1. Silver And Gold
2. Into The Blue
3. All Along The Way
4. Before The Ruin
5. Hope To See
6. Rest On The Rest
7. Out Of Light
8. Poorest Company
9. Moments Last Forever
10. Stuck In Time