October 19, 2014
This is getting ridiculous. I really don’t know what we’ve done to deserve so much wonderful music coming at us from all directions, and seemingly all at once. It must have been something really good, and probably in an unrecorded past life.
Flight of Time by Siobhan Miller is the latest work to soar high above the commonplace, and on this occasion it’s from a superb Scots voice supported by a stellar cast of gifted accomplices. More than that, it rises upon the thermals of some outstanding contemporary song writing, notably by James Grant, Ewan MacPherson and Miller herself.
If you don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of watching a grown man go weak at the knees then skip this review and just go buy the album. I guarantee that the small smidgeon of scepticism you nurture in your bosom will be blown away like cobwebs from a bitter, broken heart.
Flight of Time makes you feel like it was made just for you by sympathetic friends who understand all your cares, worries, anxieties and regrets. It gathers them up and selflessly absorbs them in sweeping melodies, clear-eyed ballads and brooding observations. Siobhan Miller is singer who has sprung from tradition, but seems able to jump musical fences at will. Her voice is direct and strong, and full of no-nonsense Scots character on the pacey If I Had Known and the syncopated Secrets and Lies. Both are self-penned songs that finely balance distance from the subject with intimate regard for thoughts and responses.
The overarching theme of the album is pretty clearly stated in the title, but the narratives are diverse and managed with startling versatility. Miller is singer’s singer who seems able to turn on a sixpence throughout a range of emotions on the most obviously powerful songs. On Scotland’s Winter, she brings a sense of yearning to Ewan McPherson’s passionate interpretation of Edwin Muir’s poem, which on the page seems more curiously resigned than anything else.
“No one’s really listening, no one really cares,” sings Siobhan Miller on Drowning Out The Sorrows in what must be the most unconsciously ironic couplet of recent times. You couldn’t help but listen with your ears pinned back, offering up your full and undivided attention to Miller’s consistently engaging song.
However, one thing is abundantly clear, and it ought to be a talking point in the coming months. James Grant is a well-established and highly acclaimed songwriter in Scotland. Miller has forged with him the kind of collaboration that produces songs to thrill you to the marrow. It’s a partnership made in heaven and I already want more. Grant’s Down in the Dandelions is the kind of song likely to produce audible gasps of amazement as it unfolds like a stop-motion film of meadow flowers opening up their faces to the sun. You know this is going to be a great song less than a minute in; the Prague Philharmonic is a big help of course, but to establish such a sense of anticipation from a standing start is the principal achievement.
On You Broke The Law, Grant’s affinity for refined Americana is filtered through Miller’s temperance in a piece of pure country by way of Penicuik. Scotland is truly more country than it cares to admit, but a Scots voice of Miller’s quality brings it out from the back bar and onto the concert platform.
But let’s get on to Sunset Steeples before you start to lose interest in my hyperbolic haverings. I’ve heard so many great songs in the last few years that I have to wonder not only where they’re all coming from, but how long it’s going to last. However, I’m not sure I’m going to be as surprised by my emotional response to a song anytime soon. Grant’s heart-tugging melody is enough to get the tears bubbling under, but the tremendous sense of time and place in the lyric and Siobhan Miller’s special voice will finish you off. I can think of a few songs that have induced such a Pavlovian response, but only a few.
Flight of Time is the kind of album so rich that reviewers will inevitably focus on different things. The orchestrations are deeply immersive, all the songs are excellent and Miller’s performances are often breath-taking. Perhaps someone else will talk about how No Butterflies is a beautifully-arranged, delicately-sung melody that re-positions Scots contemporary song writing in no other world than its own. If they don’t, then I can’t imagine what they get to do with their time.
Michael S. Clark