Review of Under One Sky Album by John McCusker

Review of John McCusker & Various Artists album 'Under One Sky' released through Navigator Records.

John McCusker Under One Sky Album

Back in 2007, acclaimed Scottish folk musician and producer John McCusker came up with the idea of what he considered to be "the ultimate collaboration". Basically, the idea was to collect as many varied musicians, songwriters and vocalists together under one roof, with a part-scripted but mostly improvised blueprint in which the concept of folk music as a much-maligned favourite pastime of woollen-jumpered, bearded CAMRA members would be extinguished once and for all.

Having assembled an impressive cast of twelve contributors to his 'Under One Sky' project, McCusker then set about constructing a record that not only showcases the hidden depths of his homeland's understated folk scene, but also highlights the genre's unassuming polemic as one of the 21st century's most diverse, and understated musical developments.

Although only containing seven pieces of music in total, 'Under One Sky' was clearly put together around a no-holds-barred approach, as the length of the opening title sequence itself - a nigh on ten minute instrumental sequence built around McCusker's impeccable fiddle soloing - perfectly illustrates.

As an introduction, 'Under One Sky' sets the tone in admirable fashion for what follows, and in the John Tams and Jim Causley duet 'Will I See Thee More/Hush A Bye' there's an intriguing if coercive segment whereby the two pieces of music interact with each other before joining as one, an almost experimental passage in a genre many had long dismissed as being one-dimensional. Likewise the 15-minute opus ''S Tusa Thilleas', sang in dramatic fashion by Gaelic songstress Julie Fowlis, which takes more twists and turns than the most northerly corners of the A1 over its long yet endearing monologue.

The two best-known collaborators here, certainly as far as the world of rock and pop goes, would obviously be Graham Coxon and Roddy Woomble, and where the former goes for a genteel, Syd Barrett-esque lament on 'All Is Gone', the latter's 'Long Time Past/Lavender Hill', also featuring fellow Idlewild member Rod Jones, is perhaps more in the vain of what we've come to expect from the artist concerned, at least of his ensemble's later works at any rate.

The closing 'Jack Seward's/Boys Of The Puddle' once again highlights McCusker's talents as a supreme arranger as well as musician, and although the occasionally quirky, but always folk-driven contents of 'Under One Sky' may not appeal to everyone's tastes, one suspects all and sundry had a ball making this record.

Dom Gourlay

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