Archie Fisher's Mature, Bittersweet "Silent Song"

A Silent Song
Red House 235
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On October 23, Scotland's Archie Fisher will celebrate his 76th birthday. My goodness, where does the time go? Fisher has long been a lion of the Scottish folk scene. He hails from a musical Glasgow family, has been performing since 1960, and Fisher compositions such as "The FinalTrawl," "Witch of the West-Mer-Land," and "Dark-Eyed Molly" are such a part of the folk repertoire that many people think they are public domain songs. Fisher is also part of a generation of guitar players that includes John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, and Martin Carthy whose strong cadences mixed with light lyricism practically reinvented how acoustic melodies were played and sung. Fisher even hosted radio programs and folk clubs that revived flagging interest in Scottish music. The only thing he's not done a lot of is recording; Silent Song is just his 7th solo venture. It's also just his 3rd since 1976 and the first since 2008.(My personal favorite Archie Fisher song is "The Cullins of Home" from an earlier album.)

The album is aptly named. We can hear a little shake to his voice, though his buttery baritone hasn't soured. T'is a wise man who knows his limits, though, and Fisher doesn't even try to impress with vocal pyrotechnics; as the title suggests, this is a quiet and personal album—the kind one might play on a wintry day curled by the fire with cocoa in hand. In that spirit, Fisher opens with "Waltz Into Winter," which is simultaneously bright and fragile--akin to the delicacy of an early December icicle. The album's dozen songs are a collection of traditional tunes, covers, and originals, but each track has a timeless and personal feel. Personal favorites include his cover of John Jacob Niles' "Lass from the Low Country" in which Fisher's deep tones are echoed by Luna Skye's sonorous cello; his rendition of the classic Scottish poem "Bonnie Annie Laurie," which he learned from his father; and his take on Ian Davison's "A River Like You." (If you know anything about the Scots, a love song to a river is as natural as peat on the fire.) Perhaps best of all is Fisher's own "Lord of the May," with that staccato vocal/guitar mix mentioned earlier. I can foresee this one becoming the next Fisher composition to be mislabeled as a  "traditional" song. Ditto his "You Took the Day," a bittersweet address to those who've departed, complete with the unsettling thought, "I won't be far behind." It's hard not to get a bit choked up when he follows that one and rounds off the album with "The Parting Glass." Appropriately, nearly everyone thinks that's an ancient Irish song, but it was penned by American poet Judy Goodenough (1942-90). Fisher used to sing this one when he toured with Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy. Was that really 40 years ago?

Archie Fisher will appear with Garnet Rogers at the West Whately Chapel as the season finale of Watermelon Wednesdays. This one, though, will be on a Monday: October 5. Call ahead, though, as it's officially sold out.

Rob Weir

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