The Lucky Smile is a sparkling recording centred around Rachel Hair’s pristine, beautifully detailed harp-playing, the tune selections by turns lively and emotionally expressive. The collection showcases the possibilities of this Celtic instrument in a thoroughly modern setting; Hair’s Starfish harp is surrounded on several tracks by acoustic guitar, double bass, drums and percussion, harmonium, Rhodes electric piano and fiddle, and it all works beautifully. This particular combination of instruments allows for some satisfyingly jazzy arrangements, particularly on the livelier sets ‘Back Home’, ‘Tsunami Jack’ and the ‘Midge House Jigs’. Ullapool born and of Irish ancestry, Hair’s playing successfully combines the heady rhythms of Scottish folk music with the more soulful melodies of the Irish tradition. Listening is a pleasure on a couple of exquisitely unadorned tracks, especially the emotion-rich air ‘Blue Hills of Antrim’, whilst the dazzling 2/3 pipe march ‘The Lochaber Gathering’ is delivered unaccompanied, bursting with rhythm and melody and rich in detail.
Acclaimed Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop contributes her crystal clear, pure-sounding vocals to two of the album’s ten tracks.
Hair’s own compositions are superb, inspired by student life (she is one of a raft of successful graduates of Strathclyde University’s Applied Music BA degree course), and by people, landscapes and places. ‘I Lost my Harp in Barcelona’ is a humorous reminder of the time her harp didn’t arrive in time for a Spanish festival (fortunately Catalan musician Josep Maria Riballes was on hand to lend her his). Hair’s consistently supple delivery is imbued with a lively sense of playfulness, and with this fine recording, she stamps her authority as one of the UK’s finest contemporary Celtic harpists and tunesmiths.
Debbie Koritsas, Songlines