Robin Laing’s The Water Of Life

406_0Judith Gennett wrote this review.

“Robin is sometimes to be found on the Tasting Panel of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to do it!”— Robin Laing’s The Water Of Life

Laing’s set-list includes a few traditionals, a few of his own, and many covers, including three from the Battlefield mafia. Laing’s wonderfully accented baritone vocals…that’s what makes all Scotsmen sexy, accents with the breath of heather, sheep, claymores, and in this case whiskey…are easy going and relaxed as are his amiable and mostly acoustic arrangements. Laing mentions his arrangements in the liner notes, as he has tried to fit each with the aura of the song.

There are several shining high points on Water Of Life. Luckily for the old anonymous songwriters, silly things happen to Scots boys who have a wee drop too much. In “Jock Beddes and the Soo,” we find Jockie lying in the street with a “soo” (that’s Scots for “sow”) licking him in the mouth. What an ugly lassie! The laddie in “The Queer Folk in the Shaws” has some problems with a huge collie. On this song, Brian McAlpine plays accordion to mimic a fairground carousel, as the liner notes point out. It’s the nicest accordion…and one of the most interesting arrangements…on the album, but I would have never figured out the carousel!

Battlefield fans will remember Brian McNeill’s “The Best Of the Barley,” sung nicely here with no surprises. It’s an interesting family history song. They may also remember “Shining Clear” from There’s a Buzz, R.L.Stevenson’s words set to Alan Reid’s perky tune and Laing’s equally perky bass and tambourine assisted arrangement. It is interesting to hear Laing’s low voice against the memory of Reid’s tenor. In addition, Laing covers Reid’s ominous “The Devil Uisge Beatha,” (from New Spring). The spaghetti western arrangement is clever and it’s always interesting to hear those bubbly Battlefield songs interpreted…any arrangement is likely darker than Battlefield’s!

Laing uses a western flavor with Tom Clelland’s “The Ghost Wi’ the Squeaky Wheel.” ”Blended whiskey’s power is slight / But malt could face the de’il / Should you meet on a winter’s night / The ghost with a sqeaky wheel.” Here is a fine tune for Halloween about the ghost of Old Bob Laing. Bob was doomed to push around a barrel with a sqeaky wheel for eternity. Lucky he met up with Willie, who poured some good malt out over the wheel, and the screeching stopped. Clelland’s songwriting is sharp, and the song features one of Laing’s best vocal deliveries. The arrangement is simple and spare, with only Laing’s guitar.

For me, the arrangements often seem too subtle and calm, but they fit Laing’s temperament and his lovely voice. Still, I would like to have heard more accordion and perhaps a full complement of pipe and drum instead of the inspirational piano. The song selection on The Water Of Life may actually be better than that of the first whiskey album, The Angel’s Share. Tired of listening to serious songs about the tragedies of alcoholism? Despite some obviously bad experiences with piggies, this album, to great relief, points out the positive aspects of drinking, and in a larger sense the importance of lightening the load. So many of us are like the ghost, we push a squeaky barrel containing the world’s sorrows. Why not lighten the load with a few drops?

Recommended for connoisseurs of traditional music, Celtic music, Scottish music, whiskey, and Scottish gents!

 (Greentrax, 2003)

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