A new album from Eddi Reader, a celebration of song and of singing that is as wide and deep as you might expect from someone with a back catalogue like she has. Recorded in Glasgow just over a year ago and featuring musicians who were in town for Celtic Connections, Vagabond is imbued with a wonderfully relaxed air, the sound of musicians enjoying where the song takes them.
Above all, this is a fantastically eclectic collection of songs: traditional Gaelic, traditional Scots, modern gems from the likes of Declan O’Rourke and Michael Marra, popular song from the 1930s, a few originals….it’s all meat and drink to Eddi Reader’s muse as she invites us to join her in her love of song. On the sleeve liner, she provides pretty extensive notes for each song – something about the song itself and something about the way they approached it in the studio – which add enormously to the pleasure of the music. Everything springs from a context and it seems a good thing if we, the audience, get some clues about where the artist is coming from.
The core band consists of Ewen Vernal on double bass, Alan Kelly on accordion, Boo Hewerdine and Ian Carr on guitars and John Douglas of The Trashcan Sinatras (many and varied contributions!). Guest appearances abound from many famous pals and the vibe is predominantly that of a wheezy, relaxed, slightly theatrical house band. Different flavours emerge with different arrangements; Married To The Sea, for example, has a beautiful, dreamy clarity to it as we drift away across the broad blue ocean in our minds, whilst In Ma Ain Country gets the most decidedly folk sound. There’s all-star support on this song from Donald Shaw, Michael McGoldrick and John McCusker and they collectively weave a bit of magic, whisking us away to a heather-clad hillside. My favourite track of all is the title song, a setting of a poem by John Masefield which works nigh on perfectly for me, a distillation of human dignity in the face of the enduring mystery of life.
A little bit of folk here, a bit of jazz there, but when it comes to it, this is all about Eddi Reader’s wonderful way with a song. She sounds so laid back and easy but she’s always in complete control of where she’s going with the song and it’s a pleasure to listen to her artistry. The sessions from which this album emerged apparently produced enough material for a second album, which will no doubt appear somewhere down the line. For now, though, we have fourteen fresh songs, nearly an hour of hugely enjoyable music from one of Scotland’s greatest musical talents.