Muscular beauty and emotional insights from still-rising Hebridean singer-songwriter.
The latest album from Colin Macleod, a songwriter based in the harsh but beautiful landscape of Scotland’s Outer Hebridean islands, is a musical journey of epic proportions.
Although, to some extent, ‘Hold Fast’ can be looked at as a song cycle about the search for self, each track stands firmly in its own right. It is a big sounding album, with very human concerns at it’s heart. Sonically, it would sound equally at home in the car or on headphones, and these songs could equally exist in a stadium or a small club.
Ushered in quietly with a warm, rich vocal wrapped in reverb, opening track ‘Queen of the Highlands’ soon takes off to soar majestically. It is an eagle of a song, slowly unfolding its wings to soar towards the sun, leaving its observer squinting and blinking at the beauty. It is a heck of a way to open an album.
There is a confidence and even muscularity to the music that belies the sensitivity and anxiety that lie in the words. The radio-friendly ‘Warning Signs’ states “I don’t know if I was good… I don’t remember (but) I can’t forget…I needed cold air”; while ‘Sleep’ has a riff that is moving towards Deep Purple territory, albeit it at a stately pace.
Calling on rock aristocracy in the shape of Sheryl Crow for two tracks, it is no small tribute to McLeod that her voice and presence do not overpower or outshine his own contribution. On ‘Old Soul’, when she sings “I am the old soul in modern times”, it is a neat summation for her own career, but also Macleod’s. There is a classicism in their music that is not precisely retro, but certainly does not seem tethered to the latest trends.
The second Crow song, ’33’, is a gentle, harmony-driven, acoustic guitar picking moment. It is insightful, with a wry humour. When a father figure opens the song asking what he is planning to do with his life…he complains plaintively “I was barely 33!”, before acknowledging that he is still “singing songs about girls and waiting for my life to begin”. Though in response to the challenge, he says “I still dream, you know, still wait for something more”. Maybe for some, being a dreamer is a lifelong pursuit.
‘Looking for God’ provides one of the most intense moments on the record. It is on one level a simple description of a conversation between a believer and one who is not. However, it is intimately, even exquisitely, detailed. Whichever side of that debate you are on, there is a challenge in the words, and no easy answers. The song is bookended by a sea of static which provides an aural suggestion that hearing each other, as well as finding our own path, is seldom straightforward. It is undoubtedly an artistic high point.
This is a high-quality record on every level; the best advice would be, listen for yourself.