Album Review: Archie Fisher – A Silent Song


Archie Fisher
A Silent Song
(2015) Red House Records

Archie Fisher is truly one of Scotland's treasures; he possesses a honeyed voice that can charm, beguile, and wring emotion from every note he sings. A gifted songwriter, he has blessed the world with such gems as “The Witch of the Westmoreland,” “Lindsay,” “Dark Eyed Molly,” “Ashfields and Brine, “The Final Trawl,” and “Bonnie Border Lass,” to name just a few. He is a master interpreter of traditional music, and has sung and recorded definitive versions of songs such as “The Broom O' the Cowedenknowes,” “Queen Amang the Heather,” “I Wandered By a Brookside,” and “Rolling Home.”

He has never been a prolific maker of albums, and during much of the latter part of the twentieth century, his “day job” as the host of the popular Radio Scotland “Traveling Folk” show seriously limited his touring. The albums do seem to be coming a wee bit faster lately, with only seven years between his latest CD and his excellent previous recording Westward Away. Recorded in the Catskills and mixed in Minneapolis, A Silent Song is a staggeringly lovely collection of originals, traditional tunes, and canny interpretations.

The Songs? Individually they would enrich any album, but together, they weave a tapestry of a life well lived, and keenly observed. The album begins with a new Fisher composition “Waltz into Winter,” that chronicles autumn's end in Scotland with the migration of the house martins. “Bonnie Annie Laurie” is a lovely fireside love song, learned from his father, and penned by nineteenth century poet William Douglas, while “Half the World Away” is a classic Fisher tale of love lost and longing. Folk aficionados may recognize “Lass of the Low Country as a traditional song from the singing of John Jacob Niles. While Niles' original suffered from his often dramatic and highly flamboyant singing, Fisher has transformed the song into what almost sounds like a haunting cowboy ballad in the vein of Merle Haggard; his intricate finger-picking weaving beautifully around Luna Skye's resonant cello. The magic continues with otherworldly tale of the “Lord of May,” which could easily be a companion song to his “Witch of the Westmoreland.”

“Mary Ann” is a lovely and often neglected traditional love song given new life here, while “No Way to Treat a Friend,” penned by songwriter Kristy McGee has an almost Appalachian feel. Ian Davison's gorgeous “A River Like You” sounds like it was tailor-made for Fisher's expressive voice, and is further aided by a Linda Richard's exceptional harmony vocals. The Fisher penned “Song For A Friend” has been a concert sing-a-long favorite in recent years, and Richard Berman's stark and lovely Loch Lomond inspired rites of passage song “The Gifts” is one of the single most lovely songs that Fisher has ever recorded. The album ends with two songs that speak of endings and the reconciliation of an artist in his autumn years. “You Took the Day ” is a graceful Fisher original that recalls friends loved and departed, while “The Parting Glass” (not the Burns song of the same name) is an achingly beautiful toast to all those who leave before us, and is dedicated to his old touring pals, the late great Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy.

While many of the songs on this new CD speak of endings, it is in no way morose or depressing, but rather a rare and deeply felt celebration of life's many joys and sorrows, viewed through the crystal clear lens of time and experience; it is simply an exquisitely mature work. Fisher is in the midst of a rare and short tour of the States, accompanied by his long-time cohort Canadian singer/songwriter Garnet Rogers (to sample some of the mischief these two can get up to, seek out their superb duo album Off the Map). Do yourself a favor and go see them if they are anywhere near your neighborhood, and seek out this and Fisher's other fine albums, for he is an extraordinary peaceful voice in a much too busy world.

Archie Fisher and Garnet Rogers Tour Autumn 2015

Oct. 2 – Ithaca, NY – Cornell Folk
Oct. 3 – Harvard, MA – Harvard Public Library
Oct. 4 – Phoenicia, NY – New York State Museum
Oct. 7 – Somerville, MA- The Burrren
Oct. 8 – Beacon, NY – Towne Crier
Oct. 9 – Baltimore, MD – Uptown Concerts
Oct. 10 – Sellersville PA – Sellersville Theatre

About Lahri Bond

Lahri Bond is an artist, writer, musician and an art professor in Western Massachusetts. He is currently a staff writer for the Parents Choice Awards Foundation, as well as a former staff writer for Dirty Linen: The Magazine of Folk & World Music. He has written articles for Whole Earth Review, Iron Horse Notes,, The Green Man Review, and Scottish Life Magazine, among others. He was the art director for Dirty Linen for 25 years, and is currently the art director for Voice Male magazine. His published books include Spinning Tales Weaving Hope (with the Stories For World Change Network) for New Society Press and People of the Earth (coauthored with Ellen Evert Hopman) for Destiny Books.

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