Following 2003′s well-regarded The Songs Of Robert Burns album, the newly MBE’d Eddi Reader continues to venture into deep folk waters on Peacetime. But while her previous album concentrated solely on the work of Scotland’s favourite son, Peacetime broadens its musical horizons to encompass some contemporary material, mixing traditional tunes (including a few more Burns compositions) with songs by the likes of Johnny Dillon, Declan O’Rourke and Trashcan Sinatras’ John Douglas, alongside original compositions by Reader and her long-time collaborator Boo Hewerdine. The result is an engaging and enjoyable album that mainly stays true to Reader’s intention to “inject some soul into the old songs”.
That Peacetime often resembles a Kate Rusby record in its arrangements and instrumentation should come as no surprise — the album was produced by the venerable John McCusker (Mr Rusby himself and a regular Reader collaborator for a number of years). The connections are particularly evident on the likes of the traditional ‘Mary & The Soldier’ and the sublime opener ‘Baron’s Heir’, a track that showcases Reader’s clear, lilting vocals at their best, caressing like honey an archetypal folk narrative of love and class. The wonderfully melancholy ‘Aye-Waukin-O’ is a highlight, as is the brass-augmented ‘The Shepherd’s Song’. Elsewhere, the lovely ‘Leezie Lindsay’ seamlessly weds Reader/Hewerdine-penned verses to a Burns chorus, ‘The Afton’ boasts strong harmonies, and hidden track ‘The Carlton Weaver’ closes the album on a rousing note.
Like Rusby, Reader has a tendency to prettify the darker aspects of folk music, opting for charm over gravitas and occasionally smoothing over the harder edges of the material, with the consequence that there are moments on Peacetime when you may wish for a little more bite and grit. Moreover, the mix of contemporary and traditional material is not always seamless: references to “CCTV cameras” (in Hewerdine’s ‘Muddy Water’) sound rather jarring in this context. Even so, Reader has produced a beguiling collection of songs that should appeal to a wide range of listeners.
[Rough Trade; December 18, 2006]
Tagged eddi reader