Impressive ‘Best Of’ from modern Celtic folk singer/songwriter.
Kris Drever has now made five solo albums since his 2006 debut with “Black Water”, as well as five studio albums with the folk trio Lau, and another seven or so recordings with various collaborators, so a “greatest hits” compilation is certainly due. All ‘Best Of’ albums are not created equal but, without knowing a huge amount about Drever’s output to date, this would seem to be a very well-put-together package, pulling in a total of 36 tracks for this double album. In addition to featuring key tracks from his solo albums to date, it also includes a number of tracks from his Lau recordings, working alongside Aidan O’Rourke and Martin Green. There are also three new songs, ‘Catterline’, ‘Punchbag’, and ‘Dust In Light’, all of which are good; there’s no padding out the track list with some new filler material, these three songs more than hold their own with the other material here, with ‘Catterline’ (it’s a small coastal village in Aberdeenshire), the first single from the album, a particularly enjoyable track. Apparently, the song is about the artist Joan Eardley and her relationship with the village and the paintings she creates there. It’s a strong track, with lyrics seemingly drawn from Joan Eardley’s own words when talking about her paintings and the village of Catterline.
Drever and his music are firmly rooted in Celtic Folk and, whether he’s interpreting more traditional-sounding material or delivering his contemporary songs, that identity is always obvious. It’s a little like listening to a Transatlantic Sessions set but without any American elements. There’s no dobro or pedal steel but you still get that transatlantic feel and the connection between the Celtic tradition and the music of the Appalachian mountains. There are a host of great tracks here and, with so many of them in total, it would be impossible to talk about them all, but highlights include the excellent ‘Harvest Gypsies’, a song about migrant agricultural workers and the struggles they face, the brooding ‘The Poorest Company’ and the quite epic ‘Scapa Flow 1919’.
The list of guest appearances is impressive as well, though that’s to be expected when you consider the people Drever has collaborated with over the 17 years he has been recording. Some of those artists appearing on this album include Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot, Boo Hewerdine, Roddy Woomble, Norman Blake, John McCusker, Tim O’Brien, and many more. It’s quite an all-star cast but Drever has always been known as an artist who thrives on collaboration and it seems appropriate that a ‘Best Of’ set would acknowledge that. In all, this is an impressive recording and a great insight into one of the driving forces of modern Celtic folk but, like all ‘Best Of’ packages, you do wonder who the intended buyers are. Drever’s core fan base is likely to have most of these songs already, in one form or another and, while the three new songs are all impressive, will they be enough to get the fans to buy the album? Obviously, he’ll be hoping to pick up new followers and this is a good introduction to the artist and his music, but he is quite a niche artist and you just have to wonder if this package will get enough exposure to win him a new following. It’s to be hoped that it will, his music is always interesting and his guitar playing is particularly fascinating, bringing as it does elements of jazz, rock and country to blend with his traditional folk approach and those that appreciate the likes of John Martyn and Davey Graham would find a lot of common ground with Drever’s style.
‘Best Of’ compilations can be patchy and poorly assembled but this is an excellent overview of Kris Drever’s output to date. The fans will always have their own view of what constitutes his best material, but this selection is so comprehensive that it’s hard to imagine there will be much disappointment. For those that don’t know Drever, this is a real opportunity to discover this fine musician and his modern take on Celtic folk music.