Cold Iron | Mike Vass
from In the Wake of Neil Gunn (2014)
One of my biggest musical influences, and somebody who has greatly inspired me and helped me throughout my career, is Mike Vass.
I first met Mike when he was the musical director of a project I was part of called The Northern Exchange, which was a big band formed of musicians from Scotland, Norway, and Finland. At the time, I hadn't heard any of Mike's music before, but after one of the other members of the band showed me Lights from his Decemberwell (2012) album, I was hooked.
I have great memories of travelling down to Glasgow for the first time in 2015 for Celtic Connections, and seeing Mike's In The Wake of Neil Gunn gig at the Mitchell Theatre was definitely one of my highlights. Cold Iron is one of my favourite tracks from the album and I love the groove and the tenor guitar lines.
Mosaicist | Cougar
from Law (2006)
I discovered the band, Cougar in an advert for a mountain bike, and the track was Stay Famous from their second album, Patriot (2009). I never invested much time in Patriot, but Daunte vs Armada and it's ridiculous drum outro is a favourite of mine. I was more drawn to their first album, Law (2006), and I particularly enjoyed the found-sound elements, and the more hands-on approach to melody-writing, which I felt was absent in other guitar-focused instrumental music.
Mosaicist is one of my favourite tracks from Law, and it features many of the elements mentioned above, as well as an outro section that is reprised later in the album.
Sadly, the band (from Madison, Wisconsin), seemed to disappear off the face of the earth after Patriot, and there's very little trace of them online. Most members still appear to be active musically; the drummer, D.H. Skogen, whose brass-band-style percussion I was enthralled by, seems to be active with The Youngblood Brass Band.
Mairi | Mhairi Hall
from Airs (2020)
Through taking part in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition (2020), I had the opportunity to work with Mhairi Hall, the fantastic pianist from Aviemore. I had heard Mhairi before through her work with Patsy Reid, and the band Tunebook (Ross Ainslie, Mairearad Green, Simon Bradley), who I saw live at Celtic Connections in 2015. However, it wasn't until the Young Trad competition that I started listening to her solo albums Cairngorm (2009), and Contours of the Cairngorms (2012). Mhairi is an extremely versatile player, and she is equally at home in an accompanying role as she is as a band leader, or as a soloist.
Mhairi's 2020 album, Airs, is a beautiful collection of ambient music for solo piano, and it has some electronic elements and found sounds as well. The third track, Mairi, features archive recording of Reverend William Matheson singing Luinneag MhìcLeòid. I love this piece of music and I really admire the way that the arrangement develops, from the accompaniment of the archive recording (which is absolutely obligatory) into more of a solo piano piece.
Jennifer Castle | Daniel Romano
from Modern Pressure (2017)
I first came across Daniel Romano when he was working as the guitarist in the band City and Colour, which is the solo venture of the Canadian singer and guitarist, Dallas Green. In an interview, Green was endorsing Romano's 2011 album Sleep Beneath the Willow, and I became a fan after listening to the track, Time Forgot (to Change My Heart).
Romano's style has developed considerably over the years, from the out-and-out country sound of Come Cry With Me (2015) (check out the cover and you'll see just how country it is), to his most recent release How Ill Thy World is Ordered (2020) which is under the name Daniel Romano's Outfit and has more of a rock and roll vibe.
Modern Pressure (2017) is my favourite of Daniel Romano's albums and I never tire of listening to it. There isn't a single weak song on the album, and the writing and arrangements are fantastic. Jennifer Castle features a great groove, excellent guitar playing, and a bonus song at the end of the track, Fake Love Songs.
Take Me to Your Leader | Ian Carr
from Who He? (2015)
I met Ian Carr at Ethno Sweden in 2017, where he was an Artistic Leader, and I have since become an avid follower of his music. Prior to meeting Ian, I was familiar with him from his work with Kris Drever, who is another of my favourite guitarists/multi-instrumentalists.
Who He? is a very diverse album, with a variety of styles, textures, and instrumentation. Ian's unique approach to composition, guitar accompaniment, songwriting, and arrangement shines through the album, and is particularly present in Take Me to Your Leader, which is my favourite track on the album.
Further evidence of Ian's versatility is shown in Just Nu, which draws on his Swedish influences.
Video: A snippet of my own arrangement of Take Me to Your Leader for my third year recital at the RCS, featuring Craig Baxter (bodhràn), Anna Garvin (keyboard), and Megan MacDonald (accordion).
Am I Alive | From Indian Lakes
from Absent Sounds (2014)
From Indian Lakes is the vision of Californian singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Joey Vannucchi. Its signature sound has evolved considerably over time, from the heavier, more alternative The Man With Wooden Legs (2009), to the more pop/electronic sound of the most recent release, Dimly Lit (2019).
I have always appreciated Vannucchi's style of songwriting, and the direction he takes in layering different vocal and guitar ideas.
Wouldn't Matter to Me | Sierra Hull
from Daybreak (2011)
My introduction to the mandolin came from randomly selecting Sierra Hull's Daybreak album from the shelves of HMV in Aberdeen when I was still in high school. I'd never seen or heard the mandolin at that point, but after listening to the fourth track, Bombshell, I was determined to have one.
Aside from the intricate solos and mandolin virtuosity on show throughout the album, I equally enjoy the vocal numbers, particularly Best Buy and Wouldn't Matter to Me.
Video: Sierra Hull playing Bombshell at her workshop at Celtic Connections, February 2020
When First I Went to Caledonia (1988) | Tony Cuffe
I was introduced to Tony Cuffe by Fiona Hunter, who was my Scots song tutor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for my final two years. At the time, I was surprised that I had never come across him before, because he possessed many of the musical qualities that I wanted for myself; he was an excellent singer, a talented guitarist, and had a knack for creating arrangements that were simple but also intricate and detailed.
Listening to When First I Went to Caledonia inspired me to arrange the title track for myself, and it features on my This Ill Deeds EP.
Bitterroot | Matt Flinner Trio
from Winter Harvest (2012)
Matt Flinner is quickly becoming one of my favourite mandolin players. He has an immense amount of character in his playing, and he shows a great deal of versatility in his music, from tender and soulful melodies, to driven and intricate solos.
Flinner's The View From Here (1998) album is one of my favourites, but I particularly like the track Bitterroot from the Matt Flinner Trio Winter Harvest (2012) album, which is written by guitarist, Ross Martin.
She's a Jar | Wilco
from Summerteeth (1997)
Perhaps my favourite song from my favourite band, She's a Jar by Wilco. I love the melancholy vibe of this track, and the rough around the edges nature of the album as a whole. The quality of Jeff Tweedy's voice and the keys of the infamous Jay Bennett is what makes this song one of my favourites, not to mention the moothie!
My dream of seeing Wilco live came true last year when I got to see them at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow. I couldn't possibly pick just one Wilco song for this playlist, so I included Kamera from their iconic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) album, which includes one of their most well-known songs, Jesus Etc.
Cold Iron, from In the Wake of Neil Gunn (2014) | Mike Vass
That Kind of Lonely from American Kid (2013) | Patty Griffin
Take Me to Your Leader from Who He? (2015) | Ian Carr
Jennifer Castle from Modern Pressure (2017) | Daniel Romano
Gently III from Gently (2016) | Rachel Sermanni
Løkkeskrift from Meantime Lifetime (2015) | Mørk
It Must Be Someone Else's Fault from Old Flowers (2020) | Courtney Marie Andrews
Mairi from Airs (2020) | Mhairi Hall
Step on it Sven from Time Flies (2019) | Carr & Roswall
Jacqueline from Undercurrent (2016) | Sarah Jarosz
Ultraman from Tractor Parts: Further Adventures in Strang (2000) | Zubot & Dawson
When the Shouting is Over from If Wishes Were Horses (2016) | Kris Drever
Mosaicist from Law (2006) | Cougar
Thugainn from The Brightest Path (2014) | Patsy Reid
Slow Slow Tune from Circuital (2011) | My Morning Jacket
Bitterroot from Winter Harvest (2012) | Matt Flinner Trio
When First I Went to Caledonia from When First I Went to Caledonia (1988) | Tony Cuffe
Am I Alive from Absent Sounds (2014) | From Indian Lakes
Eddie's Attic from Formations (2020) | Hawktail
Bunker Hill / Sandy Boys from Room With a View (2017) | Old Blind Dogs
Wouldn't Matter to Me from Daybreak (2011) | Sierra Hull
Willie of Winsbury (Child 100) from Child Ballads (2013) | Anaïs Mitchell, Jefferson Hamer
Hollow from Ready Reckoner (2019) | Courtney Hartman
Kamera from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) | Wilco
She's a Jar from Summerteeth (1997) | Wilco