Burd Ellen – The Highland Widow’s Lament

Less than two months before the idea for this album hit me, I discovered the music of Burd Ellen (named after the old ballad).

I was sent a download of this to review:

My first reaction was “Well I review albums not 7″ singles”. Then I heard it and before I knew it, my pen was in my hand filling out a whole page of my notebook devoted to those two songs.

I started this project by putting all the names of the songs in a spreadsheet. This song was first on the list because it appears first in the film (though both versions of the soundtrack start with ‘Barley Rigs’, something I refuse to do).

So this was the first song I looked at and I didn’t need to give it any thought at all. This was blatantly obvious, it HAD to be Burd Ellen. It was a microsecond decision.

What came back managed to surprise as well as delight me.

It starts off in similar territory to the film version except with just the one singer but it quickly deconstructs as you realize it’s Burns original words, and as that penny drops, the music escalates into a series of drifting drones from strings and keys.

The vocals become more distant, more echoing and over its near eight minute stretch the unearthliness becomes overwhelming.

It makes me imagine Sgt.Howie waking up at the inn. He’s shocked to see he’s overslept and it’s early evening. He runs downstairs to find the bar empty. Instinct kicks in and he runs down to the deserted harbor, steals the dingy and frantically rows out to his plane.

He flies back over the same landmarks but once he gets out to sea a great fog lifts and no matter how high he goes, the visibility is terrible. He gently brings the boat down to land on the sea and wait it out.

He opens the door and wrinkles his nose. It’s not fog, it’s smoke. He notices a ferryman standing nearby in the smoke on a small skiff, holding a punt . He almost asks him what is burning but then he remembers that it is him.

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