Lossan is the debut album collaboration between Isle of Man Gaelic singer Ruth Keggin and Scottish harpist Rachel Hair.
Now, living in West Wales, I am familiar with the living, breathing Welsh language and, although not a native speaker, I deeply appreciate the cultural and historical impact of a language which, in a different age, was once a criminal offence to speak. In common with most other people, I am also familiar with the fact that Gaelic is still spoken in Scotland, although not as widely as Welsh is in Wales, and there are strenuous efforts to increase its use.
However, until reading about, and hearing, this wonderful album, I was completely ignorant of the fact that a version of Gaelic is spoken on Isle of Man, and Manx is one of the three major Gaelic languages alongside Irish & Scottish. The fact I did not know this is shocking on my part, but one of the joys of listening to a wide range of music and curious research of new music is that, to coin a well-worn phrase, you learn something new every day, and the fact that this language has now been moved from the “extinct” classification to “critically endangered” is a source of (albeit somewhat tempered) joy. One of my old comrades in IRSF (the former Inland Revenue Staff Federation, now subsumed into PCS) is a bard in Cornwall and responsible for strenuous efforts to revive that county’s native language, and the revival of native culture and language is a fantastic development and counterpoint to today’s corporate infested society.
Lossan means light, or flame, in the language this album is exclusively sung in, and this word was the only one I looked up prior to writing this review. As I said in my review of Ou’s debut album (a million miles away in terms of style and influence, but both share a joy of life and music), music is a universal language, and I like to take the meaning of songs in foreign tongues without necessarily knowing what the words directly translate as.
So, here we go. Let us explore the mood of the tracks without knowing, precisely, what the words say. Let us simply allow a wonderful album to wash over us.
Arraneyn Cadlee is the opener, and you are introduced immediately to a beautiful voice, expressive and powerful, yet fragile within that, and the sound of a wonderfully talented harpist (my wife & I listening to this were taken back to our wedding in 2001 where we had a local harpist performing). This is a light and uplifting song, one that is celebratory in its tone.
Mishas y Keayn is a more thoughtful and reflective affair, not dark by any stretch, but certainly providing me with a sense of looking back, although there is a jig just short of two minutes in which brings us back to the celebratory mood, this, though, counteracted by a lovely fiddle solo which is not exactly melancholic, but neither is it get up and dance along. This is a beautiful song.
Tri Nation Harp Jigs follows, which requires no translation. It is a piece on which we hear a maestro of her chosen instrument play to us, a celebration of the harp, and those of you reading this review far more familiar with the harp from Ranyart the navigator on Olias of Sunhillow will garner a huge amount of pleasure from this.
Arrane Saveenagh is very short at 1:40 minutes and is a lament. Keggin sings alone, and her voice is ethereal and haunting in its beauty.
Keayrt Hug Mee Graigh lifts the mood considerably and is, to these ears, a love song, lilting in the voice and in between the two main protagonists there is a guitar and the return of the evocative fiddle, and the sound of this soaring above the voice and harp is as powerful and lifting as any synth you will hear in 2022.
Graigh Foalsey is the longest track on the album, just over five minutes long. The harp tells its story for the opening minute and a half before Keggin’s expressive voice enters proceedings. This gorgeous song seems to me to be an expression of the culture and language at the root of this album, and it really is quite superb – two musicians at the top of their game.
Ny Kirree Fo Niaghtey is another thoughtful track with some powerful string plucking work at its heart, and I sense a sadness at its core. It is not depressing, but there is a yearning in this piece.
Eubonia Soilshagh is a complete contrast and is the type of track best enjoyed in a venue such as my local pub, with a crowd of wonderful people sat around a wood burner listening and joining into a piece of music which strikes me as exemplifying the sheer joy of life, especially during the dark winter months. Especially joyous are the up-tempo fiddle and bodhran (drum) accompanying the duo.
Yn Scollag Aeg follows. This is a solo piece for harp and strikes me as the perfect musical accompaniment to the album cover photograph of the duo set against a lovely bay, and this is as good an instrumental piece as you will hear this year with contrasting moods as with the seasons inherent in the music.
Vuddee Veg reminds me of that old nursery rhyme, Pussycat, Pussycat, and I rather hope that when I share this review with Ruth & Rachel, I haven’t missed the mark by a million miles. I don’t think I have, but no matter, it is a favourite of mine from the album.
Album closer is Arrane Oie Vie. Just over two minutes long, this is the perfect before bed lullaby to metaphorically close the album and allow us to close our eyes and appreciate the music (day) which preceded it.
Lossan is a wonderful album, whose complexities belie those initial couple of listens, and the more you hear, the more you uncover the layers within it. There is some exceptional folk music being recorded, and I have reviewed a couple of top albums on this site this year. This one sits very well alongside them and is highly recommended.
View original review HERE