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Under One Sky (Review)

Under One Sky

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

UNDER One Sky is an hour-long vocal and instrumental suite by the Scottish multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer John McCusker, performed by a dozen of Britain’s finest musicians including Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble and Blur’s Graham Coxon.

Originally a joint commission by the PRS Foundation, the Scottish Arts Council and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Under One Sky sets out to explore and interweave the many different traditions, genres and influences at work across today’s dynamic UK folk scene.

It’s only partially successful given McCusker’s decision to make so many of the songs last for so long. Several of the tracks are in excess of nine minutes and feel long and drawn out, whereas a little brevity would have helped.

Nevertheless, you can’t help but admire McCusker’s hand-picked ensemble, which also includes acclaimed Gaelic songstress Julie Fowlis, revered balladeer John Tams and rising star Jim Causley (among the singers), as well as instrumentalists Andy Cutting (diatonic accordion), Ian Carr (guitar), Emma Reid (fiddle), Iain MacDonald (bagpipes, whistles and flute), Ewen Vernal (bass) and James Mackintosh (percussion).

Needless to say, given the talent on show Under One Sky can be quite charming when it gets things right. Jack Seward’s/Boys Of The Puddle is a lively blend of acoustic guitar, fiddle and bagpipe that immediately appeals, emerging like a good wedding party dance-floor filler.

While Graham Coxon’s appearance on the tender All Has Gone delivers one of the LP’s firm highlights… and one that’s likely to draw widespread appeal.

Jigs, Strathspey & Reel is also as jolly as its name suggests, despite clocking in at eight minutes, and album opener Under One Sky combines serene mellowness early on with more upbeat folk that would go down a storm in an Irish or Scottish pub on a Saturday night.

But be warned: you have to really like your Celtic and folk influences to derive the most pleasure from it. Under One Sky, while certainly admirable and charming in equal measure, does also test the patience in certain places.

Download picks: Under One Sky, All Has Gone

Track listing:

  1. Under One Sky
  2. Will I See Thee More/Hush A Bye-Feat. Jim Causley & John Tams
  3. Tusa Thileas-Feat. Julie Fowlis
  4. Long Time Past/Lavender Hill-Feat. Roddy Woomble
  5. Jigs, Strathspey And Reel
  6. All Has Gone-Feat. Graham Coxon
  7. Jack Seward’s/Boys Of The Puddle