Robert Burns is pretty much synonymous with Scotland. Although I don't think I really gave his songs and poems any serious thought until I was in 5th year at Perth High School and our slightly eccentric Higher English Teacher Mrs McDonald brought the syllabus to life by performing a number of his songs acapella.
Mrs McDonald and I didn't always see eye to eye (I remember having a heated argument with her about the relative merits of 'Sunset Song' which I regarded as humourless misery porn) but she a kind old lady with a pure, deceptively youthful singing voice and an encyclopedic knowledge of Scotlands greatest ever cultural icon.
‘Something In Us Never Dies’ is Perth born singer-songwriter Laurie Camerons latest studio album, set for release on January 24, 2020. The Robert Burns inspired album presents a collection of modern reinterpretations of poems, songs and letters written by Burns in the 18th century, set to new and original music. Laurie also discovered the works of Burns at school and the Ayrshire poet has been a life long passion of hers. From the very first lines of the opening track 'Latest Hours,' she makes the lyrics completely her own and makes them sound like they've just been written.In a world of vacuous, by the numbers cover versions 'Something In Us Never Dies' is a rare treat.
These days the ability to take another artist's songbook and live and breathe it has become a sorely neglected skill. In a world of vacuous, by the numbers cover versions 'Something In Us Never Dies' is a rare treat.
It is paradoxically both respectful and irreverent, giving the source material its due place but not afraid to take it in new directions. In that sense, it reminds of some of my favourite cover albums like 'Hanky Panky', The The's paean to Hank Williams or 'Mermaid Avenue' Billy Bragg & Wilco's nod to Guthrie.
There isn't a weak link among the nine tracks but 'This Wild World' is a particular standout. A Granular downsampled drum beat and airy production make the perfect backing for a beguiling and almost nursery-rhymish lyric. When you compare 'This Wild World' with Burns 'Epistle to Major Logan' you can see what a great job she has done distilling and tweaking the source material.
This 'Wild Wild World' is followed up by another strong track, the anthemic 'Bottle and a Friend'. As soon as I hear the epic guitar line I can tell that this song is perfection. It reminds of Joe McAlinden's band Superstar's eponymous single, except with much better lyrics! Idlewild's Rod Jones production really shines too and I love the almost bubbling mellotron and beautifully restrained vocals.
'My Hearts In The Highlands' was the song I was most immediately familiar with. Like any right-minded individual, I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan and he heavily references Burns song in his rambling blues song 'Highlands'. I was obsessed with this song when Dylan's 'Time Out of Mind' came out, mainly because it references both Neil Young and Scotland, and I looked up the song on this new thing that had just come out, it was called the internet.
Laurie's take on 'My Heart's In The Highlands' is the most traditional-sounding tracks on the album. It has a sparse piano part augmented by organ and a lush sounding string arrangement and makes a great showcase for Laurie's considerable vocal talents.
Closing track 'Something In Us Never Dies' seems a fitting end to a long poet whose work is perhaps a widely read as ever. For the most part, Laurie sticks close to the source (Sketch New Years Day. To Mrs Dunlop) but rearranges the bard's sentences to form the disquieting but hopeful Coda, 'Something in us never dies, another year has gone forever, something in us never dies, repose us in the silent dust.
'Something In Us Never Dies' by Laurie Cameron is released on January the 24th and is available to pre-order from Bandcamp.
I caught up with Laurie, now living and working in California, to discuss the upcoming album in this week's Small City interview.
I'm loving the album. From the very first track, it makes the songs sound like they were just written yesterday. Was it difficult to adapt Burns verse for a modern audience?
Thank you! It actually wasn't too challenging. I found that much of his writing lends itself to a modern sound. A few of the poems and letters I wanted to use were quite lengthy but included lines that I couldn't live without, so I've reinterpreted them using select verses or lines. The words from each poem, song and letter I chose are so wonderful to read, it was such a joy to write new music to them.
This isn't exactly a 'Burns Greatest Hits' and there are some real deep cuts. What was your criteria when you were choosing which pieces to adapt?
I really wanted to showcase lesser-heard pieces of his writing. You tend to hear the same collection of his songs on Burns-themed albums and on TV and radio. It's understandable as pieces like 'Ae Fond Kiss', 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'Green Grow The Rashes' are timeless and loved by people all around the world (myself included).
When I started reading 'The Complete Works of Robert Burns' there were certain pieces I'd never come across before that I fell in love with and I thought they would make amazing songs. I must have read his complete works cover-to-cover probably six or seven times deciding what to include in the album. Theme wise, I chose pieces that spoke to me most - his love of Scotland and longing for his homeland, speculation and wonder on the future, and his sentimental words on love, friendship and living life to the full.
How were you introduced to the work of Burns? I had a slightly eccentric English teacher at a high school that used to sing Robert Burns to us (really On a particular road trip into the Highlands at 9 years old I told my parents that one day I'd have my own Burns album!made him come alive). Did you study him at school too?
It all began in primary school for me! I remember reading Burns' poems aloud in class as a wee kid and reciting the whole of 'To A Mouse' in my high school English class in Perth. I loved it. My parents would play the songs of Robert Burns in the car when I was young and I would sing along to every track like it was music from the charts. On a particular road trip into the Highlands at 9 years old, I told them I'd one day have my own Burns album - so I've made my 9-year-old self proud!
Do you have any live shows planned to support the release of 'Something in Us Never Dies'?
Just before Christmas, I played a show in Edinburgh to benefit the Scottish mental health charity Tiny Changes, where I unveiled several of the album tracks and it was lovely to play them live. For now, I don't have any live shows planned at home in Scotland. I recently moved to California where I'm working at Stanford University. There's a lot of love for Burns in the US, so I'll definitely try out the songs live while I'm over here!
I love the title of your debut album, "The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf", how did you come up with it?
I have to give credit to my brother for that! He'd suggested 'The Girl Who Cried For The Boy Who Cried Wolf' as a cool song name and I decided to write a song based around it, which ended up being the title track of the album. That, and the fact that every album title I came up with my brother said was rubbish!
You count Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin amongst your fans, any idea how he discovered your music?
Ian was a loyal customer of Edinburgh's independent music shop Coda Music which sadly closed its doors last year. He was recommended the album by the shop's lovely owners Dougie Anderson and Rose Norton.
I've got a confession to make. In the last ten years or so I have really started to enjoy stuff by bands like Lau and it's pretty much guaranteed that I will love anything John McCusker plays on ('before the ruin' is one of my favourite albums). Do you have any other recommendations?
Agreed, 'Before The Ruin' is a brilliant album and I'm a big Kris Drever fan! I'd recommend King Creosote ('Diamond Mine' is a beautiful album), the late Scottish singer-songwriter Michael Marra. If I could recommend just one song, it'd have to be Frightened Rabbit and Lau's cover of Scottish folk song 'Norland Wind' - I have it constantly on repeat!
Perth Festival of the Arts has joined forces with its 2020 artists to create a 10-day online celebration to ‘celebrate the arts together'.
May 21st Thursday 2020
Dougie Maclean's new Perthshire festival this summer: Cardney Concerts.
March 18th Wednesday 2020
Party at The Park, the South Inch, 27th and 28th June, will feature fantastic live performances from The Charlatans and many more!
March 12th Thursday 2020