As the frontwoman of Capercaillie, Karen Matheson was a leading light in the revival of Scottish folk music from the 1980s onwards, mixing Gaelic and English songs and powering them with rock instrumentation. In parallel, she had a career as a solo singer and prolific collaborator with an array of world musicians, perhaps most notably duetting with the late Algerian singer Idir on “A Vava Inouva”.
It is eight years now since any new release from the band, and six since her last solo album. Urram was fully in Gaelic, the traditional nature of its waulking songs and mouth music offset by instrumentation from Africa and Asia. But its making included many other songs, material that felt at odds with its central concept. Now, amid lockdown, Matheson has returned to the other songs. Still Time is a Janus-faced title: it points both to the enforced stillness of the moment (“bird song soared and banana bread baked”) and to there being still time to record these songs.
There is a glance back to 1980s roots in the material: there are new songs by her frequent collaborator James Grant, whose band Love and Money recorded Glasgow soundtracks from the anxious funk of “Candybar Express” to the yearning of “Jocelyn Square”, which turned the city’s challenging weather into a guiding metaphor. There is a quiet, intense reading of “Recovery” by Runrig, another band that melded the traditional and the modern — guitars that skirled like bagpipes — in a bid for cultural revival.
Grant’s opening track, “Cassiopeia Coming Through”, is a call for optimism with a gorgeous saxophone melody that reappears like the moon through clouds. Later, his “The Glory Demon” is an attack on militarism. “Soldier boy, soldier boy”, keens Matheson with maternal regret.
The sprightliest track is the traditional “The Diamond Ring”, a Child ballad set to a skiffling shuffle with bright banjo and fiddle. “It was not for the diamond ring upon your lily-white hand”, insists a maid, that she fell in love; “it was not for your noble name, it was not for your land.”
Matheson’s other main collaborator here is from the 1780s: Robert Burns contributes a touching “Lassie With The Lint White Locks”, and the closing track “Ae Fond Kiss”. Matheson closed the Commonwealth Games with it in 2014; here, with simple piano and slowly swelling strings, it is intimate rather than showy.
‘Still Time’ is released by Vertical