Latest review added March 23rd, 2016)
“One of the great Scottish voices of our time”
Frank Hennessy, BBC Radio Wales
“Quietly, unforcefully and undeniably stunning”
“A master of well chosen words and melodic inventiveness”
Rock ‘n’ Reel
“One of the finest singing voices in Scotland in any style”
“Many harmonica players have made a full career out of less talent”
“Persuasive vocals and sheer, irrepressible rhythm”
“Jim Malcolm will just melt you in your seat.”
Review in Living Tradition – April 2016
Live In Perth
Beltane Records BELCD111
by Clive Pownceby
A review of a previous album in this magazine described Jim as “one of the finest singing voices in Scotland in any style” and really that nailed it, so this piece will reinforce Alan Murray’s opinion of some 15 years back! Growing up in Perth, the press release highlights his abilities as a songwriter but the Trad.Arr material still counts for a lot; one senses for him, the tradition remains a potent living thing. In whatever genre though, quality control is never an issue with Jim Malcolm and this set starts with a punchy Lads O’ The Fair – as good a lead-off track as you’ll find. There’s nothing like a live set to capture a singer’s essence, which this surely does, complementing his 2004 recording, Live At Glenfarg – long on my permanent playlist.
A worthy addition to his solo catalogue now numbering 13 releases, here is a troubadour of substance playing guitar and harmonica with exemplary precision. Relaxed and amongst friends on his own patch at the Goodlyburn Theatre, he hit a peak that night last August, forging a very personal communion. His expressive voice, whether complementing a filigree picked guitar on the bittersweet The First Cold Day or regaling us with tall tales, is warm and engaging. The amusing Robin Williamson cover, Pickpockets, doesn’t float my particular boat, but the droll merriment of Cleaning Out My Moat is clever cutting wordplay displaying Jim’s special flourish as a writer. Contrast this with the seduction-leading-to-contentedness theme of Reres Hill whose convincing delivery is proof that traditional song can draw you in and hold you without bells and whistles, and the mix is perfect.
With a hushed reverence in the theatre at times, the whoops and yells at the end tell you that this gently-paced set has hit its collective spot. Yes, you’d want to stand and cheer Jim Malcolm; a world away from his first job as front man, until 2007, with the attacking high energy Old Blind Dogs, this well-formed collection shows that he continues to punch well above his weight.
Inverness Courier, Scotland, March 2016
Live in Perth
Review by Calum Macleod
WHEN Jim Malcolm emerged on the Scottish folk scene in the 1990s, he quickly established himself as one of its brightest new talents. Impressive instrumental talents, on guitar and harmonica, were a bonus to a rich voice that perfectly suited and yet updated traditional Scots material. No mean songwriter either, Malcolm has always been an engaging live performer, which is why this live release is so welcome.
If there is a disappointment about the album it is that Malcolm, one of the finest current interpreters of Burns does not make room for any of the National Bard’s songs on the CD, but there is plenty of fine material here to compensate.
The set starts with a tip of the hat to two fine singers and songwriters from the generation that inspired Malcolm and his own peers, Brian McNeill from Battlefield Band and the late Andy M. Stewart from Silly Wizard, while another of Malcolm’s personal mentors, Jim Reid, also gets a nod later on with the song Vinney Den.
Malcolm also makes his pick from the traditional songbook, with The Jolly Beggar and Rere’s Hill among the familiar contributions, but happy to report that Malcolm has also been flicking through his old notebooks to provide a taste of his own songsmithery.
That can range from the introspective The First Cold Day and Blindness of My Youth via a train journey from Perth to Lochearn that is a classic example of spinning a bit of Scottish history into song in a way that the aforementioned Brian McNeill was a master of, to a touch of satire. The album closes on two examples that are equally strong in different ways: Money Making Money, where Malcolm gives full vent to his anger at greed and exploitation and the swing setting to Cleaning Out My Moat, where humour is his deceptively gentle weapon.
Live in Perth
Scotland’s first and foremost singer/songwriter Jim Malcolm is presented on this album at his very best – in a solo concert in front of a home audience. Jim’s songs come best to life when performed to an audience, so this is a wonderful follow on from his previous live album “Live in Glenfarg” – I can’t quite believe that this was released already 12 years ago.
The new album features many of his greatest songs, including his version of Brian McNeill’s “Lads of the Fair”, the traditional songs “Jolly Beggar” and “Lochaber no more”, and his very own songs “The train from Perth to Lochearn”, “First Cold Day” and “Corrievrechan”. There is also the usual fair dose of good humour, and I enjoyed listening to his storytelling of the amusing story “The Pickpockets” or a somewhat political comedy song about a member of the gentry cleaning out his moat – featuring many frogs.
Having been on the road for 30 years, Jim’s new album sees him in superb voice, backed by his guitar and characterful harmonica playing. This is wonderful and classy entertainment of the old style – a singer presenting great songs with good stories to a live audience.
© Michael Moll
Living Tradition Magazine, Scotland, Feb 2015 edition
The Corncrake – Belcd110
This latest venture from Jim is in effect the second half of a collection of traditional Scottish songs which began with his album Still a year or so back. Well, not quite all traditional, for the track list also includes a gently captivating account of Violet Jacob’s Hallowee’en (here using Jim Reid’s beautifully apt melody)… but who am I to be pedantic?…
The Corncrake – which I must mention at the outset comes encased in a very attractive digipack – presents a sequence of songs that, happily, aren’t in the same ‘endangered species’ class as the bird itself, although it forms the subject of The Echo Mocks The Corncrake, a rather lovely song of obscure origin for which Jim posits a potential Burns connection. Jim didn’t get round to recording The Bonny Earl O’ Moray with Old Blind Dogs, so he now gives us his take on the ballad here, and it’s a brave move to follow this with another big ballad, Clerk Saunders – but Jim carries this off almost casually, yet without making light of its ominous tale (despite the sweetness of its melody!). Jim’s “good fast” take on The Cruel Mither incorporates some nice bluesy harmonica fills, while the energised, refrain-rich bothy ballad Tattie Jock is (surprisingly perhaps) less well-known. Jim’s account of When First I Came To Caledonia is one of the finest available, while The Merchant’s Son and Twa Recruiting Sergeants do sterling duty as the album’s rollicking “come all ye” bookends.
Some aficionados of traditional song may find Jim’s approach on occasion a touch underplayed, and the sweetly companionable and entirely accessible nature of his chosen instrumental backdrops (involving the proven talents of special guests Pete Clark, Marc Duff, Scooter Muse and Dave Watt) may to some extent accentuate this impression, but there’s no lack of passion or involvement in Jim’s treatments (nor in the beautiful vocal harmonies from Jim’s wife Susie).
Jim Malcolm “The Corncrake”
Review by Michael Moll of Folkworld
The popular Scottish singer/songwriter tackles on this album almost entirely traditional songs (with only one exception). This is the second “traditional” album by Jim Malcom, after last year’s “Still” – while all previous 10 solo albums were very much focussed on Jim’s own material. Many of the songs are seldomly heard, while some are better known. I knew the song “Bonnie Early of Moray” from the Old Blind Dog recordings – but I had to double check to find out that this was during the early days of the Dogs, still well before Jim joined the band.
The album has a very relaxed flair featuring Jim’s wonderful warm voice, guitar and harmonica, as well as guests Pete Clark (fiddle, Mark Duff (whistles, bodhran), Scoter Muse (banjo), Dave Watt (keyboards and melodica) and Jim’s wife Susie adding vocal harmonies. The cover of the album is a beautiful watercolour painting of a corncrake by wildlife artist David Bennett. Eleven relaxed and pleasant songs, sung by Scotland’s foremost singer.
Review of The Corncrake, December 2014
Len Holton of radio show From Albion and Beyond, KUAR FM89
Jim Malcolm – 12th(!) solo release from this mellifluous Scottish singer-songwriter, tradition-bearer, dexterous guitarist (and no slouch on the moothie too)… formerly of Old Blind Dogs, here with an album of all traditional Scottish ballads, such as Clerk Saunders and The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray, except for a superb poem from Violet Jacob, Hallowe’en, set to music by Jim Reid. All star supporting cast including Susie (Allan) Malcolm on harmony vocals, Marc Duff whistles bodhran, Pete Clark fiddle, Dave Watt keyboards & melodica and Scooter Muse on banjo… quality, quality, quality in all departments!
Rhythms Magazine – April 2014
Jim Malcolm – Still
Too often when considering UK folk music, the focus falls upon the Child ballads
and artists south of Hadrian’s Wall. Jim Malcom hails from north of the Tweed
River and for nearly twenty years has been recognised as one of Scotland’s very
finest troubadours. Although a renowned interpreter of the songs of Robert Burns,
over the course of ten solo albums Malcolm has primarily relied upon his own
exquisitely crafted songs, the occasional trad classic notwithstanding. With Still,
his 11th release, things change and he has instead drawn upon the rich heritage of
Scottish folk music, the ‘Forth Bridge Song’ being the only original included.
Accompanied by a small ensemble that includes Marc Duff (Capercaillie) on
bodhran and whistles, Dave Watt (keyboards), and Pete Clark’s subtle fiddle,
there’s a distinctly mellow vibe throughout. Malcolm’s honeyed burr is an absolute
joy, and his arrangements provide a contemporary setting for traditional ballads
both popular and obscure. ‘Both Sides The Tweed’, a marriage of a Dick Gaughan
melody with words from James Hogg’s ‘Jacobite Relics Of Scotland’, is a musical
and emotional highlight; the poignancy of the fight for independence still burns
200 years after it was written. Other highlights include the uptempo ‘Pills Of
White Mercury’ (later to be famously interpreted as ‘Streets Of Laredo’!), ‘Queen
Amang The Heather’, and the rarely heard tale of a family feud that is ‘The Baron o
Like Eddie Reader, many may struggle to call Jim Malcolm a folk singer in the
traditional mould, however he is, just as Reader is, firmly entrenched in the musical
traditions of his beloved Scotland; for all its contemporary sensibilities, Still reeks
of Scots authenticity. Trevor J. Leeden
Jim Malcolm ‘Still’
by Tom Keller of Folkworld (Germany)
Jim Malcolm became the shooting star of Scottish folk song when playing with the Old Blind Dogs from 1999 to 2006 and replacing their previous singer Ian F. Benzie. It kicked off a successful solo career, and Jim never looked back but followed his own trajectory ever since. Quite similar to the new album of fellow Scottish singer Emily Smith, Jim Malcolm revisited traditional Scots material after performing and recording a lot of original material. Well, it might be a personal concern of mine these days, but I’m really tired of all these inferior ‘original’ songs lurking around, many in a mid-Atlantic folk pop style with neither class nor originality. There is still such rich harvest to bring in, many traditional songs haven’t even picked up or, say, treated properly. No misunderstanding, you can’t accuse Jim Malcolm of writing inferior songs. Jim has written some great original songs in his time, the world would be a poorer place without his ‘Battle of Waterloo,’ for example.
Anyway, ‘Still’ is an exquisite collection of traditional Scots songs (and, yes, one of Jim’s own compositions, the ‘Forth Bridge Song’). Most songs are more or less familiar characters, the Queen Amang the Heather and MacPherson under the gallows. Some songs have known authors: Robert Tannahill wrote ‘Erin Go Bragh’, Sir Walter Scott adapted ‘Jock o Hazeldean’, Dick Gaughan put the tune to James Hogg’s ‘Both Sides The Tweed’. Eventually, the disc finishes off with a music hall song, ‘The Scot’s Lament,’ fostering the popular myth that Scotsmen are extremely careful with their money. Jim’s treatment is the proper one; though his selection contains few surprises or new discoveries, these songs still sound fresh, or fresh again. There’s nothing old-fashioned, guaranteed by Jim’s trademark vocals, guitar and harmonica, plus sensitive support from Capercaillie’s Marc Duff (whistles), Pete Clark (fiddle), Scooter Muse (banjo) and Dave Watt (keyboards).
The Living Tradition Magazine, Feb 2014. CD review of Still, by David Kidman
Beltane Records BELCD109
Jim is simply one of the most reliable of Scottish performers and veteran of a healthy number of projects comprising his own self-penned songs over the course of nine CDs and three decades. On his latest CD, Still, however, his intention was to ring the changes somewhat by recording an album of largely traditional Scottish songs and most interestingly, the impetus for doing this came from his good friend Brent Rutherford from California, whose extensive knowledge of Scottish ballads enabled suggestions for a choice of material that suits Jim’s own performing style down to the ground. As do the warm and uncomplicated musical settings too, which centre around Jim’s gentle guitar and harmonica playing and feature accompaniment from guest musicians Marc Duff (whistles, bodhrán), Pete Clark (fiddle), Scooter Muse (banjo), Dave Watt (keyboards) with vocal harmonies by Susie Malcolm on a handful of songs. These resources are deployed effectively at all times and genuinely complement Jim’s thoughtful vocal interpretations.
The Baron O’ Brackley, which kicks the album off, receives a suitably animated reading, with a spirited fiddle solo to boot, while James Hogg’s stirring anthem Both Sides The Tweed (using Dick Gaughan’s melody) is reflectively characterised; the Gaughan connection runs through into Erin Go Bragh too (the Tannahill song which he popularised). Jock O’ Hazeldean is charmingly done in a lilting 3/4 time, while further on into this collection we find Jim’s take on Pills Of White Mercury (allegedly the original of Streets Of Laredo), which he’s finally fulfilled his ambition to record, and an appealingly wistful version of Belle Stewart’s Queen Amang The Heather. The album’s closing stages are impressive too, especially The Scot’s Lament, written by Kitty and Kennedy Allen for Will Fyffe with a tune by Gordon Millar (although I tend to concur with Jim himself in that the tale’s ending proves less than convincing). The disc’s other non-traditional selection is Jim’s own Forth Bridge Song, which we learn was written for a competition to commemorate the bridge’s 100th anniversary in 1990 (and rather surprisingly didn’t win); this rolls along its track most companionably. As indeed does everything Jim sings; for if there’s any small criticism, it’s that Jim’s interpretations tend occasionally towards being a touch too soft-grained and easygoing, even leisurely, almost to a fault. It’s only really on MacPherson’s Rant that the tempo gets up a head of steam, so to speak. But the upside is that Jim always gives us quality, make no mistake, so Still is unlikely to invoke any serious cause for complaint.
Concert review: Jim Malcolm in the Middle, Kirkcaldy Acoustic Music Club, March 29th, 2012
Fife Free Press
“After Thursday night’s show Jim Malcolm told me that the organisers of Kirkcaldy Acoustic Music Club, Fiona and Sandy Forbes, “put shoes on the feet of folk musicians’ children”. This very personal tribute underlines the relationship between traditional music performers and those willing to do all the dirty work that is putting on gigs that helps artists on their road to hopeful success. It’s such a rare thing in the folk/trad scene but with a talent like Jim’s it is unsurprising that he’s sustained a career out of it. He has been a member of The Old Blind Dogs, is a solo artist, and performed in his alternative persona of Robert Burns… Tonight though, Kirkcaldy was treated to his latest venture ‘Jim Malcolm In The Middle’ where he is joined by his wife Susie and their children Beth and Sandy (both notably shod!).
Jim kicked off the evening solo with Lochanside – a song of the simple comforts and the pleasures of nature – to the pipe tune of the same name. The family were invited in turn to the stage to join in a mixture of duos, trios and all together with, you guessed it, Mr Malcolm in the middle! Jim’s stage presence is very relaxed and you feel that being eyeball to eyeball with the crowd, as it is at the Polish Club, is how he likes it. Between numbers Jim holds it all together with humour, history and the all-important story of the song. Along with his outstanding guitar playing and accompanying harmonica Jim has the kind of voice that pulls you in, wraps you up in comfort, and lets each word speak it’s own meaning. Sung with poignant grace the self penned ballad The Battle Of Waterloo is the perfect showpiece for all his talent telling the story of a dying Scots soldier on that famous battlefield where it was not only “Napoleon who was broken” that day.
The Malcolm family are certainly a talented bunch. Susie Allan (Mrs Malcolm) is an acclaimed folk singer in her own right. Her singing is gentle and warm and she sang with Jim on traditional numbers, Burns’ The Ploughmen and The Valley of Strathmore. Daughter Beth performed with her dad on a mixture of traditional, contemporary and her father’s songs. Covers of KT Tunstall, Norah Jones and Robert Burns – a beautiful Ae Fond Kiss – shows a talent in singing (and playing piano) a range of material very much in her own style and convincing too for all her youth. One of the evening’s highlights was Beth singing Neptune, her father’s 20-year-old lament of how we treat the sea.
We were treated to an uproarious version of Sam the Skull – for those who might not be familiar with it this is the Glasgow song of a fabled cat with crocodile like jaws that drove away the RSPCA van when it came to rescue him! Jim’s young son, Sandy, performed this song (with all the actions) as well as any pro and later showed off future star potential with his award winning singing of Morning Has Broken.
Jim’s songwriting is always central to his performances and in addition to the aforementioned songs we had some treats from his new album Disaster for Scotland. Jim uses his talent of putting new words to old songs or tunes, often based on material from folk and trad. On Short and Fat he subverts the vision of Brazilian loveliness that is the Girl From Ipanema into Scottish urban life at its most raw – a world of lone-sharks, debt, repossessions and hospitalisation!
It was another great night at the Polish Club.
REVIEWS OF SPARKLING FLASH
Scots Magazine, 2011
Sparkling Flash is the ninth solo album from Perth-based Jim Malcolm, and showcases his usual blend of self-penned songs, words from Burns and works of other Scottish poets. William Soutarís Hal Oí The Wynd gets a jaunty, bouncing treatment, for example, and Burnsí Farewell To The Bonny Banks Of Ayr is a rousing, near-calypso track that one feels the poet himself would have liked a lot. But thereís a lot more too: the whaling trade is recalled in The Bonny Ship The Diamond, and somewhat less risky aquatic adventures feature in Loch Tay Boat Song….. He is also joined by some friends from the current Old Blind Dogs line-up, like Aaron Jones, Ali Hutton, Fraser Stone, and Jonny Hardie. Marie Fielding plays fiddle, Dave Watt tickles the ivories and Scooter Muse is on banjo…..Another distinct success from the only man since the late Malcolm Arnold to immortalise Tam Oí Shanter in music.
Pete Fyfe March 2011
JIM MALCOLM – Sparkling Flash (Beltane Records BELCD107)
Somebody pass me the smelling salts or better still the latest recording by Jim Malcolm. I’d just had the pleasure (?) of reviewing an album by a certain ‘thrash folk’ band when this antidote landed on my doorstep. Call me old fashioned (and I know there’s plenty would) you can feel secure that all things are at peace with the world, particularly the world of Mr Malcolm. Opening with the track “Sparkling Flash” that could be shrouded in misery at the death of his friend (songwriter Jim Reid) there’s no sense of morbid regret just a celebration found in the comforting arms of a passing thunderstorm at his funeral. However strange the bedfellows, Jim manages to imbue his narrative skills on the listener with a ‘traditional style’ quality utilised by other ‘folk storytellers’ including Jez Lowe and more recently Ewan McLennan. Talking of song writing, on the pithy “American Accent” he manages to respectfully convey a reply to an accuser of why his accent ‘sounds’ American without the slightest hint of malice or the more commonly extended Glasgow Kiss. Of course, alongside his own compositions, he includes many trad arr: songs including “Green Grow The Rashes O” and “The Birkin Tree” where he is joined on vocals by his wife Susie reminding me of the time when Andy M Stewart was accompanied by his wife Kathy. Surrounding himself with a select band of musicians including Aaron Jones, Johnny Hardie and his daughter Beth, Jim manages to proudly promote his Scottish roots without ever once being mawkish and the ‘folk community’ should be justifiably proud in counting him as one of our own. www.jimmalcolm.com
REVIEWS OF THE FIRST COLD DAY
Dirty Linen July/August 2009, by Kerry Dexter
Several years ago, Jim Malcolm was named songwriter of the year in his native Scotland. That’s a talent evident on his latest recording, The First Cold Day. What is also evident is that he’s a very fine singer and interpreter of music written by others. The songs here are a nicely balanced mix, woven directly and indirectly around the idea of taking a journey. The title track finds Malcolm in transition, traveling from the frost-filled morning of his home in Perthshire to the heat of a Tennessee autumn, and thinking about traveling and those he leaves behind and whose love he carries with him. The opening track of the record, The Valley of Strathmore, is a fine song by Andy M Stewart with a haunting melody that looks at a similar idea. The Shearing finds Malcolm graceful and thoughtful on a well-known piece of Scots traditional music, while in The Road Not Taken he sets the well-known American poem by Robert Frost to reflective music that illuminates the words in a fresh way. From the Clyde to the Susquehanna is an emigrant story of a man leaving the mines of Scotland to encounter hope and hardship in the new world.
Schiehallion takes a different view of things. That’s the name of a mountain peak in Perthshire that derives from the Scots Gaelic words for ‘mountain of the fairies’. Malcolm teamed up with students in schools across rural Perthshire in a songwriting project, and this fantasy of fairies’ tales, which he wrote with Gordon Gunn and the children of Kinloch Rannoch primary school, stayed in his mind after the project was done. Malcolm says in the liner notes that he “hijacked part of the melody” of his song “An Hour in the Gloaming” from a Robert Tannahill song. With it he has fashioned a gentle and natural tribute to Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, as well as a tribute of sorts to the pleasures of fishing. The pleasures of eating come in for Malcolm’s wry humour with Down In Alabama, which in addition to including a hilarious throwaway line about “Georgia on my mind”, takes the listener through some of the Southern American foods Malcolm has been invited to try while visiting friends in Alabama: fancy pears, turnip greens, grits and all. Lively humor, a touch of magic, a nod to Robert Burns and connection with home and loved ones, set in memorable words to fine melodies – it’s a thoughtful and generous collection, well worth repeated listening.
Scotland On Sunday, 22nd March 2009, by Norman Chalmers
Malcolm’s much-loved vocal warmth overcomes any frostiness in the title track, which moves from the icy Tay to Tennessee sunshine, one of five songs he has written here.
There’s also Andy M Stewart’s “Valley of Strathmore”, a couple of traditional songs, including ever-lovely “The Shearing”, and a thoughtful Robert Frost poem set to a Malcolm tune. The songs are underscored by his excellent guitar and harmonica, sweet harmony vocals (from his wife Susie), guest fiddle, keys, banjo, and, in Schiehallion, the children of Kinloch Rannoch primary school. * * * * (Four stars)
JIM MALCOLM – The First Cold Day (Beltane Records BELCD106)
I first saw Jim performing with the band Old Blind Dogs some years ago and was immediately struck by the strength of his vocals. This is the seventh solo album in his prolific canon of work now featuring predominantly his own songs along with the traditional “The Shearing” and “Maggie’s Bairn” plus Andy M Stewart’s evocative “Valley Of Strathmore”. Proud of his Scottish heritage, Malcolm has a way with words that I’m sure would please the likes of forebears Robbie Burns and Robert Tannahill. Being a much-travelled folksinger, Jim has had plenty of time to hone his skill with the pen and the images he paints is a vast landscape as far as the eye can see…or the ear can hear. Capturing thoughts and putting them on paper has always eluded me as a performer but it’s good to see them come vividly to life in the hands of a craftsman who obviously relishes the challenge. I have a particular liking for tracks such as “An Hour In The Gloaming” accompanied by his wife Susie on harmony vocals or the double-tracked smooth jazz tinged title track “The First Cold Day”. In some ways this particular track reminds me of the first time I heard The Easy Club. For those of us who feel we know the best performers on the ‘folk’ circuit check out this recording…if you haven’t seen or heard Jim before I’m sure you’ll enjoy a majority of the album…I certainly did! www.jimmalcolm.com
REVIEWS OF ACQUAINTANCE
Dirty Linen August/September 2007
This is a bucolic album full of blooming hillsides, fresh-turned earth, marshy dingles, and twittering birds. Malcolm’s relaxed take on the songs of Robert Burns fits these buoyantly sad narratives. As his liner notes point out, what the casual listener takes for a love song is often Burns tenderly saying “goodbye”. Apparently jolly confections are actually damning diatribes. Songs about drinking, however, are actually songs about drinking.
Malcolm’s delicately picked guitar is central, and it is variously embroidered by his own harmonica or the fiddle of Pete Clark. Fraser Stone of Malcolm’s former band, Old Blind Dogs, occasionally adds percussion. Malcolm’s wife, Susie, takes the lead vocal on ‘The Ploughman’ and shares a duet with her husband on ‘The Shepherd’s Wife’.
Malcolm’s enunciation of the Scots dialect allows the untutored to hear each unfamiliar word clearly and thus enjoy the words for their sonic beauty. It is as pleasurable as seeing an animal in its natural habitat even if you don’t know what it is.
This album is wonderfully paced, with tempo and density of arrangement varying enough so that each track stands out distinctly, and yet there are no jarring transitions. Malcolm reveres Burns, but is not overawed by his legacy. The spare, modern treatments of these songs are like a renovation of an 18-century cottage that reveals the timeless beauty of the architecture and gives you central heating too.
Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)
Inverness Courier, November 2007
Eddi Reader may have already recorded an album of Burns’ songs, but there is no better man for the job than Jim Malcolm, without question one of the finest Scots traditional singers of his generation. The former Old Blind Dogs frontman has long shown his admiration for our national poet and the centrepiece of his last album was Malcolm’s own adaptation of ‘Tam O’Shanter’.
Now he has gone the whole hog and devoted a whole album to the Bard and his works and it is such a natural fit that, with all due respect to his own not inconsiderable writing abilities, it makes you wonder why he did not do this years ago.
Sure, many people have tackled these songs before, from the obvious ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘A Man’s A Man for A That’ to the more obscure ‘Willie Brew’d a Peck o Maut’ and ‘The Shepherd’s Wife’.
But Malcolm, with his rich voice, confident guitar work and subtle harmonica, stamps his unique identity on the songs, reclaiming ‘Killiekrankie’ from ‘generations of kilted and sweatered throwbacks’, turning ‘Auld Lang Syne’ into a song of melancholy and regret, offering one of the most romantic takes yet on ‘My Love is Like a Red Red Rose’ and making a fair stab at challenging Dick Gaughan’s definitive take on ‘Now Westlin Winds’.
REVIEWS OF TAM O’SHANTER & OTHER TALES
The Living Tradition, May/June 2016
Jim Malcolm, the current singer of Old Blind Dogs, has released a new collection of original solo work that shows exactly why he won the 2004 Scots Trad Music Award for ‘Songwriter of the Year’. The eight tracks each tell a story, some more epic in scale than others. His mellow voice brings emotion to the lyrics that are obviously very dear to his heart.
Beginning with two original compositions relating tales of his own life, including ‘Blindness of my Youth’, celebrating the beauty of his native Perthshire that he hadn’t noticed when he was young, Malcolm sets an atmospheric scene. He then brings forth the piece de resistance of the album: a fifteen-minute rendition of Robert Burns’ ‘Tam o’Shanter’. Moving from rambunctious to frantic to epic, the song captures the lyricism of Burns’ original poem. This track is destined to become a classic that will be copied and covered, but never done as well as it is here. It is worth the price of the CD alone. However, this poem is nowhere near the end of the album. A beautifully tragic song about Lord Nelson, a tribute to the pioneering folk singers, so many of whom have passed away, a tale of thwarted rebellion and an instrumental guitar track all receive Malcolm’s individual stamp. His songwriting is rivalled only by his singing.
I enjoyed this album immensely and can’t think of anything that could be improved. His arrangements, singing, writing and liner notes are all carefully done and contain neither too much nor too little. This is an album that should be added to the collection of everyone seriously interested in contemporary Scottish music. A wonderful recording.
Scotland on Sunday 15 Jan 2006
THE Old Blind Dogs’ singer/guitarist/harmonica player is a prolific songwriter, and a variety of them are recorded here, set to original or sometimes traditional tunes. Though defiantly Scots, Malcolm can tilt to a romantic, sometimes dreamily mid-Atlantic delivery – and all the songs are expressively sung and richly arranged, using half a dozen musicians, including the Dogs’ percussionist, Simon McKerrill on bagpipes and Pete Clark on fiddle. His ambitious treatment of Burns’ eponymous epic verse is taken as a big, roots/rocking blues, his moothie wailing mid the clattering rhythm and skirling devilish pipes. Listen while eating haggis and neeps.
The Scotsman 09 Dec 2005
PERTHSHIRE singer Jim Malcolm’s epic setting of Burns’s celebrated poem may be the centrepiece of this new disc, but for the most part it is a showcase for his own increasingly accomplished songwriting. The songs range from a delicate evocation of childhood memories inspired by his own kids to more tradition-derived material in Jeannie Reid’s Hoose on the Green Jo or Corrievrechan. Instrumental backings are kept spare, foregrounding the songs and the singer.
Inverness Courier 09/10/05
Taking on Burns’ epic of witchcraft, whisky and women in short skirts is a daunting task – but with Malcolm, one of our best interpreters of the Bard, we’re in safe hands. His setting of the poem forms the centre-piece of the Old Blind Dogs’ frontman’s latest solo album.
Malcolm has the happy knack of sounding utterly authentic yet completely modern and accessible. His warm vocals take the lead on a breezy arrangement which highlights the humour in the poem, while Simon McKerrell makes a fine stand-in for Satan with suitably demonic piping. There is much more to the album than just one song, however, and Malcolm’s lyrical skills are evident.
History and legend as usual are fertile sources of inspiration for songs like “Corrievrechan” and the conveniently timed “Lord Nelson”, but the ol’ softie kicks off with a beautiful pairing of family-inspired songs, “When the Night is Young”, a love song for wife Susie, and “Blindness of my Youth” with a gorgeous guitar riff like Dick Gaughan with the anger filtered out.
Acoustic Guitar – Jan 2006
Player spotlight: Old Blind Dogs
The veteran Scots band keeps its modern grooves authentic by following Robert Burns’ 200-year-old model of applying original arrangements to traditional forms.
Kicking into a tune that fiddler Jonny Hardie said he’d found in a “dusty old book”, the Old Blind Dogs didn’t break a sweat as they set some of the sell-out crowd to dancing behind the soundboard at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California. That’s one of the appealing aspects of this veteran Scottish trad quintet – the way they whip up such energy while making it look like it’s no big deal.
The tall, deadpan Hardie, who sometimes doubles on guitar, is the only founding member of the band remaining and he’s been touring with a shifting line-up since 1990. Guitarist and songwriter Jim Malcolm joined about six years ago to share front-man duties and provide his own variety of laconic cool. Much of the melodic engine is driven by Rory Campbell, an extraordinary border piper and whistler. Aaron Jones, the newest member, alternates between his Sobell cittern and a Fender electric bass, and percussionist Fraser Stone surrounds himself with a very un-Celtic trap set and percussion array.
It’s the fondness for “dusty old books” that helps set this hard-working band apart and keeps its repertoire fresh after 15 years of touring. Scholarly and curious, Hardie and Malcolm are constantly searching for forgotten traditional tunes and songs, while Campbell cranks out original pipe tunes at an alarming rate, his writing infused with fire and authenticity.
Authenticity is exactly what the Dogs consciously strive for, balancing old with new and trying to ensure that Malcolm’s original songs are both viscerally appealing to a modern audience and believably Scottish in shape and nuance. It’s a delicate task, but one with plenty of healthy historical precedent. “We’re fortunate in Scotland that Robert Burns mapped out the whole idea of being a researcher and arranger and writer of songs over 200 years ago,” says Malcolm. “So folks in Scotland have no problem with writing songs and combining them with traditional music. It’s part of the culture.”
Malcolm’s song “The Wisest Fool” is a good example of what Old Blind Dogs work to accomplish. Malcolm’s lyrics tell an ironic story of Scottish historical glory, with a sweet choral hook that hands off to Campbell’s border pipes, backed by a funky conga groove, fiddle, bass and even a harmonica backbeat. With Malcolm’s unhurried delivery and soft Scots-accented vocal, it’s easy to imagine that this song might have been around since Burns’ time – without the conga groove, of course.
Somehow the band’s use of percussion avoids what Malcolm calls the “Frankenstein effect” – combining elements that threaten to drain the “Scottishness” out of a traditional arrangement. But, pressed to define “Frankensteining”, he shakes his head and says, “It’s not really a case of what you can do, but what you can’t. That may sound awfully un-Californian, but that’s the way it is.” One idea Malcolm consciously employs in writing and arranging is to avoid the walking suspended chords that come so easily in DADGAD but somehow don’t convey the desired Scottish twang. Instead he barres up the neck to find different voicings.
As efficient as Hardie and Malcolm are in coming up with new material to add to the traditional canon, they share a genuine respect for the long-dead composers whose work forms the band’s core repertoire. “I’ve always been more interested in research than in what I’ve got to contribute,” admits Hardie. “There’s so much good music that can be rearranged and looked after. That’s far more exciting to me than writing something new.” Malcolm is quick to agree: “Infinitely more! I feel that I’m contributing much more to the tradition when I’m pulling out a tune or strathspey that nobody’s heard for 200 years. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
REVIEWS OF LIVE IN GLENFARG
Excellent album of “greatest hits” from one of Scotland’s more distinctive voices and a fine songwriter, guitarist and moothie player to boot. Lead singer in Old Blind Dogs, he seems rarely to perform this side of the Atlantic, so this live album, recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at Glenfarg Folk Club, may be the best chance you get. www.jimmalcolm.com
Dirty Linen, Aug/Sept 04)
Jim Malcolm is best known in North America as the lead singer of the fine Scottish band Old Blind Dogs. His solo release Live in Glenfarg features solo acoustic arrangements of songs that he does with OBD and much more, a rich mix of Scottish traditional material and originals that mark Malcolm as songwriting heir to Andy M. Stewart. With his ability to match words with melodies and make the results sound steadfastly authentic, and his strong voice and steady hand on guitar, he is a compelling storyteller. “Battle of Waterloo” is a powerful narrative of the Napoleonic Wars that features new lyrics set to a traditional tune, and “Fields of Angus” is a Dundee jute mill worker’s dream of better days. This disc is a tuneful, compelling trip through Scottish history and culture.
Scots Magazine, Aug 2004
Live in Glenfarg is not an estate agent’s exhortation; it refers to Jim Malcolm playing live in the eponymous village hall in November 2003. Jick kicks off with his own lyrics to the retreat air “Lochanside”, and follows up with another set of self-penned words to “The Battle of Waterloo”, words put into the mouth of a soldier from Kirriemuir.Being broken on the field of battle, indeed, is a recurrent theme, with the ineffably sad “Jimmie’s Gone to Flanders” and “The Forfar Sodger”, who comes home on crutches. More traditional ballads are featured in “Glenlogie” – which Jim reckons was his favourite Old Blind Dogs song before he joined the band – and “Sir Patrick Spens”.
A less noble theme is featured in “The Party”, but to tell you about it would most certainly spoil it. Suffice to say I laughed immoderately – and blushed in solitude.
The Inverness Courier, 14 May 2004
Jim Malcolm may have another life as lead singer with Old Blind Dogs, but he is well able to hold an audience’s attention on his own with his rich clear voice, sensitive finger-picking on guitar and catchy harmonica. So a live album, recorded in the friendly environs of Glenfarg Folk Club, seems a natural move. It also allows a handy recap of his career to date from first album Sconeward to last year’s Home.
Unlike some younger folksters, Malcolm sounds comfortable singing in the Scots vernacular and it’s a particular pleasure to hear his interpretations of traditional ballads like “Sir Patrick Spens” or “The Forfar Sodger”. His own songs include the shameles novelty audience-pleaser “The Party”, the neo-jazz of “Achiltibuie” and the heartfelt “Neptune”, an invironmental plea written as love song. Marrying new words also proves effective in combining a powerful anti-war lyric with the pipe tune “Battle of Waterloo”.
The Scotsman 09 Apr 2004
JIM MALCOLM is very much on home ground in this beautifully recorded live outing in Glenfarg Village Hall, and the airts of Perthshire, Angus, Dundee and Edinburgh all figure strongly in many of the songs. Malcolm is currently the lead singer in Old Blind Dogs, where his fine, expressive voice is heard in a powerful harmony context, but this disc features him as solo singer, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica.
He mixes traditional songs and ballads with his own compositions, here ranging from the ecoconscious Neptune to the hilarious The Party, his musical evocation of teenage mayhem and resulting parental retribution.
Folkworld review, 16th April 2004
Jim Malcolm is, without any doubt, one of the best singers and most gifted songwriters to be found today on the Scottish folk scene. During the last few years, he has become even better known through his work as singer of the Old Blind Dogs. Jim has had for a long time the plan to record a solo live album; finally he got round to it – and it has been well worth waiting for!This album features 15 songs from Jim’s vast repertoire, and indeed the selection is a real “best of Jim Malcolm”, bringing together most of my personal favourites of Jim’s previous four studio albums. Highlights are several of Jim’s self penned songs, including Jim’s classic anti-war song “Battle of Waterloo”, the song “Neptune” (which has, since his first recording, been covered by Kate Rusby), the swinging “Achiltibuie”, a celebration of the Perthshire landscapes “The Lochs of the Tay”, the hilarious song “The Party” and another song which has become a classic in its own right: Jim’s funny song “Flowers of Edinburgh”, to the traditional tune. The album showcases the full variety and talent of Jim Malcolm – featuring traditionals, self penned songs both serious and funny, sometimes more traditional, at other times jazzy-swinging.The recording quality is excellent; the Glenfarg Folk Club audience gives the album a warm feeling by providing for some songs a beautiful backdrop chorus singing – in particular in “Sir Patrick’s Spens” – a.k.a. “Ooooh Ooooh” (that’s what Jim’s daughter calls it!). The album only features a bit applauding after each song, but no announcements to songs – as Jim explains in the booklet “All the patter between the songs has been edited out, partly because it gets in the way and partly so that I can get away with telling the same old jokes at my concerts.”This is Jim Malcolm pure, in top shape – only his attractive voice, his guitar and, in some tunes, his mouthie. It is lovely to hear some of the songs from Jim’s earlier albums in this treatment, which were performed on the studio album in a jazzy band context. And generous he has been as well – the album offers nearly 70 minutes of songs, all the very best quality.I really love this album, and it is likely to become one of my favourite Jim Malcolm CDs. If you know and like Jim Malcolm, this album is a must, even if you have most of the songs already on earlier albums from Jim – the arrangements are different, and the atmosphere is superb, giving full justice to Jim’s warm singing style. If you have not heard anything from Jim Malcolm before, this is a perfect introduction to the songs and singing of one of Scotland’s very best.
REVIEWS OF HOME
“Transcendent brilliance in songwriting and musicianship” Mojo
“Electrifying” Scots Magazine
“Jim’s warm, expressive voice suffuses the album in a dreamy musical gloaming” Scotland on Sunday
Taylor Guitars Magazine Jan 2004
Despite the fact that Jim Malcolm relentlessly tours as the singer with the much-celebrated Scottish folk band, the Old Blind Dogs, he continues to perform and record as a solo singer/guitarist. On Home, his fourth solo CD, Malcolm mixes arrangements of traditional Scottish tunes with his own songs and one original instrumental. His playing is melodic throughout the record, his vocals confident and soothing, and the recording itself clean and well-balanced.
The CD opens with “Fields of Angus”, a trad-sounding original about freshwater pearl fishing that is authentic right down to its vernacular lyrics. Malcolm croons convincingly about tramping “roon by the Tay” and fishing pearls “frae the stream.” The tune features nice guitar picking and beautiful pipes by Simon McKerrell. Malcolm’s brogue is unmistakably Scottish, but unlike other Scottish folk recordings — including those by the great Dick Gaughan — non-Scots actually can understand what he’s on about!
The best songs on Home are the most traditional-sounding. One highlight is Malcolm’s simple, fingerpicked arrangement of Robert Burns’ “The Lea-Rig”, an ode to trout fishing whose inclusion on this collection seemingly was inspired by Malcolm’s own attraction to Scotland’s fields and streams (there he is in the liner notes in rubber wading boots). “Bonny Glenshee”, another traditional tune, highlights his clean picking and smooth vocals and incorporates nice harmony vocals by his wife, Susie Malcolm.
“Coldrochie” tells the story of Scottish tenant farmers of yore eking out a living off the land on crofts, or small farms. And “Sir Patrick Spens” is a traditional epic that Malcolm put to music with propulsive backup fiddle by Gregor Borland and great percussive bouzouki by Steve Byrne.
The CD’s one instrumental is “Train to Killin”, a lovely tune that highlights Malcolm’s guitar playing on a Taylor XX-RS and Borland’s fiddle, and is driven by Paul Jennings’ vaguely Indian percussion lines. (There actually is no train to Killin, Malcolm explains in the liner notes.) The last track is “Freedom Come All Ye”, an ode to Scottish poet and songwriter Hamish Henderson, who died in 2002. It’s a fitting closer for Malcolm, a talented contemporary artist who deeply respects the history, and the music, of his people.
Dirty Linen Oct/Nov 03
Jim Malcolm’s fourth solo recording is his best yet. His songwriting is getting stronger: the five orginal songs included here (mostly dealing with his home or being away from home) sit comfortably with the traditional songs and one Robert Burns song. Malcolm’s voice still has that rich, warm sound that is so comforting. He’s expanded the backing somewhat – many of the tracks have pipes, keyboards, fiddle, backing vocals, and even drums, which give the individual songs some needed fullness and variation. Malcolm continues to improve and has become one of the nw leading voices in Scotland. Recommended.
Mojo, March 2003
With a voice as heart-meltingly beautiful, in its way, as Judy Collins, Jeff Buckley or Elizabeth Fraser and a seemingly crossroads-at-midnight transcendent brilliance in songwriting and musicianship Malcolm remains, inexplicably, not a millionaire but the Scottish folk scene’s best kept secret. Why?
The Scots Magazine, June 2003
Simply titled Home, the fourth solo album by Perth-based Jim Malcolm shows that home is indeed where the heart is, with a collection of folk songs both old and new, ranging from the self-penned to Burns and traditional ballads.
I find Jim’s treatment of “Sir Patrick Spens” quite electrifying, lending a sense of drama and urgency to a poem that up to now meant little to me except as a dull report of incompetent seamanship. Likewise “The Lea Rig” positively exudes feelings of love, hopefully requited. The second last track, “Can’t Seem To Find My Way Home”, will strike a chord with anyone suddenly afflicted by homesickness sneaking up unannounced, and may well bring a tear to ex-pat Scots all over.
Evening Telegraph, Dublin, Thursday 20th March 2003
‘Home’ is the fourth solo album by Jim Malcolm, lead singer withScottish folk band Old Blind Dogs. Like his previous work, it’s a smooth mix of original and traditional material, often crossing the boundaries between the two: On ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, for example, Malcolm takes a medieval ballad and gives it a new melody and a lively arrangement that makes light listening of many verses. It’s on the slower numbers that Malcolm’s gentle voice really shines, though – notably ‘Bonny Glenshee’, the beautifully nostalgic Robert Burns love song ‘The Lea-Rig’, and new compositions ‘Fields of Angus’ (a lyrical ode to freshwater pearl fishing) and ‘Coldrochie’. He’s one fine guitarist, too, as demonstrated on the instrumental ‘Train To Killin’.
Scotland on Sunday, Scotland, Sunday 16th March 2003
From the charming “The Fields of Angus”, his opening hymn to the travelling people and a landscape shaped in sweet nostalgia, Malcolm’s fourth solo album (he’s also the lead vocalist in Old Blind Dogs) showcases his songwriting talents among some classics from the Scots song tradition such as “Sir Patrick Spence”, “The Lea Rig”, and a rather harmonically eccentric reading of “Bonny Glenshee”. Half a dozen musicians guest behind Malcolm’s accomplished guitar and stylish harmonica, while his warm, expressive voice suffuses the album in a dreamy musical gloaming.
Sunday Herald, March 16th 2003 ****
Perthshire-based singer-songwriter Jim Malcolm (also lead singer with the Old Blind Dogs) is another of today’s brightest talents in this field. His fourth solo recording opens with one of his finest compositions to date, Fields of Angus, a moving evocation of a Tayside traveller longing for summer, while (s)he toils in a Dundee factory during the winter.
Although other originals on the disc don’t quite match up, there are excellent versions of the ballad Sir Patrick Spens, Burns’ The Lea Rig, and a soft-toned take on Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye, while Malcolm’s singing is an instrument to luxuriate in throughout.
Inverness Courier, 28th March 2003
With so many of Scotland’s finest young folk musicians instrumentalists rather than vocalists, it is good to have someone like Malcolm practising the art of singing good songs well. The Old Blind Dogs frontman is blessed with a rich Scots voice well suited to reinterpreting Burns (“The Lea Rig”) or traditional ballads (“Sir Patrick Spens”) for modern listeners. As a writer, he draws on his Angus heritage for “Fields of Angus”, an original companion piece to “The Yellow On The Broom”, laments an abandoned croft and its past residents on “Coldrochie”, and produces a fine double-header about the good and bad of a touring musician’s life in “Road to New York” and “Can’t Seem To Find My Way Home”. The final track, where he pays tribute to the late songwriter and collector Hamish Henderson with a reflective take on the much-recorded “Freedom Come All Ye”, ensures the album closes on consistently strong form.
REVIEWS OF RESONANCE
“With this recording Malcolm adds to his standing as one of the leading figures in the Scottish folk scene.”
Dec 00/Jan 01
Jim Malcolm might be better known in this country as the lead singer for the Old Blind Dogs, but he had established himself as a fine songwriter and interpreter of traditional material long before he joined the band. Now, with his third solo recording, he further adds to his standing as one of the leading figures in the Scottish folk scene. Malcolm has one of those pure, warm folk voices (two parts Archie Fisher, one part Dick Gaughan) that one never tires of listening to. He’s an under-rated guitarist, very nimble and expressive, and plays harmonica as well. He’s a fine interpreter of Robert Burns material, choosing a number of his more obscure songs for this recording. Malcolm presents four of his own compositions, three by other writers, and only two traditional numbers (on one of which, Cruel Sister, he displays the power of his voice by maintaining the tension found in the song over its six-minute length). Malcolm is joined on a number of tracks by Old Blind Dogs percussionist Paul Jennings. If I have one complaint, it’s that all the songs are pitched at the same very easygoing and relaxed tempo. But that’s a minor complaint and not one that should prevent you from enjoying this otherwise excellent recording.
Here we have one of the finest singing voices in Scotland in any style, stretching his vocal chords around a selection of his own, traditional and others’ songs. Jim is blessed by a flexible, smooth creamy voice, a range to die for and an ability to cast its slightly jazzy spell over whatever he tackles. There are fabulous versions of Jimmie’s Gone To Flanders [editor’s note: this is Jim’s own song and this is the first recording of it] and Jim Reid’s Rohallion, with Jim’s deceptively skilful guitar meandering around gently in the background – just spellbinding. Jim also shows what he can do on guitar alone in his own New Parliament Rag, a cute Scott Joplinesque guitar and moothie piece dedicated to our MSPs, some of whom are “looking a bit slippery”, according to Jim.
Bravely, Jim tackles Ed Pickford’s Workers’ Song – one of those rendered intimidating by Dick Gaughan. It’s hard to take on a song when such a clearly definitive version exists (on Gaughan’s Handful of Earth).
It’s a beautiful bit of singing, but reveals the only aspect of this CD that I could criticise. Workers’ Song is, by any standard, an angry song, and I don’t think Jim does angry very often. Like Dougie McLean, Jim’s distinctive voice and instantly-recognisable style are both a blessing and a (very minor) curse. I’m picking nits, as this is a stunning collection of songs, but it could use a belter or even a snarler to form a contrast with all the evocativeness.
The CD marches out chirpily on a bouncy version of Bonnie Briar Bush/Duncan Gray, showing that Jim certainly does cheeky with some enthusiasm and panache.
By the way – this CD is pretty much what you’ll hear live with little additional adornment … doesn’t need it.
30th June 2000
You have to be sure of your craft to get away with a strictly traditional album, but Malcolm doesn’t just get away with it – he shines. With the McCalmans and The Poozies taking Malcolm compositions into their sets, he has no need to prove his songwriting ability. The focus this time is on covers, but with some new lyrics to old tunes, the tradition is moving on in this gentle collection – led by Malcolm’s guitar, vocals and mouthie, which carries hints of that famous Malcolm swing.
Malcolm’s voice is still one of the best in Scotland and the guitar playing is distinguished. Some harmonies or even an unaccompanied track might have been good, but the sweet mouthie is a welcome second voice.
REVIEWS OF ROHALLION
Rock ‘n’ Reel
Late summer 1998
Jim Malcolm’s progress since his debut album Sconeward has been an intriguing experience. The band Rohallion adds considerably to his muse, giving a wider and more versatile scope and focus all round. Rohallion the album features Malcolm with drummer Iain MacFadyen and Dave Watt on keyboards assisted by Aidan O’Rourke’s fiddle and Deaf Shepherd’s Rory Campbell on whistle.
Malcolm’s songs are packed with solid melodies and astute, often forthright, lyrics which tell their stories as they happened, choice examples including The Battle of Waterloo and Gorbals Melody. Amulree, with its sweeping, almost grandiose atmosphere and Dream recalls John Martyn’s early youthful romanticism and Vinney Den proves his worth as an interpretor of pastoral balladry. Rohallion is yet another intoxicating display of lyrical and music genius from a master of well-chosen words and melodic inventiveness.
10th April 1998
Folksong meets jazzsong in some lithe, blithe settings where Malcolm’s relaxed vocal tones and free-range harmonica are given added buoyancy by Dave Watt’s exhilarating piano runs. Malcolm can be an incisive Scots traditional singer out of the Rod Paterson mould when he chooses – witness the resonant Battle of Waterloo – and he can also write with insight about society’s victims, as in Gorbals Melody, but generally his songs slip into something more comfortable, and even the introduction to Burns’ Tam o Shanter becomes a coolly pulsating, finger-clicking affair. Smooth and tasty.
The Scots Magazine
The album titled Rohallion stars Jim Malcolm, famed for guitar and harmonica playing (both at once, that is) assisted by keyboard player and vocalist Dave Watt and percussion man Iain MacFadyen from Jim’s band, Rohallion, plus Aidan o’Rourke on the fiddle and Rory Campbell on whistles. Tracks are mostly self-penned, with an affectionate look back at the Gorbals; a not-so-affectionate look at the noisy cuckoos of Skye; and memories of hitching out of Oban “on a bad bend thumbing in the drizzling rain”, which may strike a chord with many. By the way, for two-wheeled travel enthusiasts, the track Cycles is not about riding bikes; it’s about cyclical behaviour of nations. And, you may not believe this, but look out for Tam o Shanter set to music. A jaunty, gallus song it makes, too. Come to think of it, irresistible is probably the best word for this collection. Form an orderly queue…now.
The Living Tradition
Now that old blue eyes has passed to the great cabaret in the sky, those lost souls searching for some much needed soothing in this chaotic world can once more reach for the dry martini. All they need do is play the latest offering from Jim Malcolm, Scotland’s very own lounge lizard, and the bum fluff soft tones will ease the pain away. They will need to watch, though, for just as Jim’s voice cradles them sweetly in his arms his lyrics will drop them in a bath of cold water.
Rohallion is Jim’s second CD following on from the well received Sconeward, and it cements his reputation as the coolest man in folk. Laid back and jazzy may be the overall style but he can still deftly turn his hand to more traditional-sounding material, as in the version of Jim Reid’s cracking song The Vinney Den.
He can also write in traditional vein as the opening track proves. The Battle of Waterloo lays bare the tragedy of war at the most personal of levels and in the sincerest of ways. This song will be picked up by many others. Jim’s other songs are a delightful mix of love, tragedy and comedy. All are shot through with heavy doses of irony and social comment. The chorus of the whimsical Sierra Whoosh is a perfect example of this:
Big fast empty cars full of busy people
Look at me as if I was something evil
Just for hitching a ride.
The state of the nation captured in four lines.
Throughout the CD Jim plays brilliantly understated guitar while Dave Watt on keyboards and Iain MacFadyen on percussion combine to produce a gentle, easy backdrop which frames Jim’s songs perfectly.
Jim Malcolm may be the coolest man in folk but he is a red hot talent and should be sought out by all with an ear for a good voice and clever songwriting. Recommended.
REVIEWS OF SCONEWARD
“Jim’s perfectly formed song Flowers of Edinburgh is one of those things that stops you dead in your tracks.”
Travelling Folk, Radio Scotland
Excerpts from review panel.
“This is one of the best albums I’ve heard for years and years.”
Martin Hadden, ex of Silly Wizard
“Jim combines the best elements of Dougie MacLean and Robin Laing. Sometimes he sounds Tom Paxton/Glen Campbellish, for example on Losin’ Auld Reekie, and the influence of Jim Reid in the covering of two of his songs on the album brings a really nice traditional Scottish element to a very fine debut album. This album is very much going to establish Jim as a writer of the the standard Scottish songs of the future. I think they will be nicked.”
Gill Bowman of MacAlias
Jim Malcolm probably knew his debut album was going to be good. Entitled Sconeward, it’s not simply good, it’s brilliant. Malcolm dedicates this album of self-penned songs to the Democracy for Scotland movement and the Declaration of Calton Hill. The recurring message is the political and physical rape of his beloved country – not in itself a new concept these days, of course. What’s new and fresh and invigorating about Malcolm is his musical style and his wordplay. In terms of singing he is clearly not unacquainted with the work of Rod Paterson (or, for that matter, early Mike Maran) as he reveals in his more Scots-sang moments, like the powerful Neptune; but he produces, too, a highly effective kind of loose-limbed, creamy jazz sound that is very much his own, plus maverick snatches of Irish-jazz “scat” singing and cleverly dubbed backing vocals that both surprise and delight the ear. Some of the songs are simple celebrations of Scotland, expressed in Losin Auld Reekie and Lochs of the Tay through the device of joyous cataloguing of wonderful names like Auchterarder and Erochty. Elsewhere, Malcolm’s celebration takes on a more bitter flavour as he laments political apathy in Scotlandshire, the wounds inflicted by the Thatcher era in Scotch Blues and, in Barrenlands, the hypocrisy of a nation which bemoans Amazonian deforestation but which has long since chopped down most of its own trees. “Who are we to point the finger, in a land devoid of wood?” Malcolm asks, taking a side-swipe at modern Scottish forestry: “So they plant the sitka spruce/Only fit to wipe your bottom, no damn good to build a hoose.” In a very much lighter vein, there’s a marvellously blithe love song, Achiltibuie, and some comic relief in The Party. The album is much enlivened by Malcolm’s guitar and harmonica, together with occasional instrumental contributions from Ian McCalman, Nick Keir and Hamish Bayne. It’s a highly professional job from start to finish and there seems nothing to stop this bonny musical fechter from going to the top of the heap.
Jim Malcolm has a splendidly warm voice, a nicely laid-back sense of rhythm, and writes songs that stick in the mind, which can’t be bad! His love of Scotland and its people shines through whether he’s singing of the delights of driving the back roads (Losin’ Auld Reekie), frustration about Scots apathy over their own destiny (Scotch Blues, Scotlandshire, Barrenlands), or merely falling in love in/with Achiltibuie, the songs are all memorable, and make their point without forcing things down your throat. Accompanying himself mainly on guitar and harmonica, Malcolm is equally at home with traditional style material like Up the Noran Water or more jazz-influenced numbers. The scat singing on The Party (shades of the Yellow Pages advert) probably works better live, but his very small but perfectly formed song Flowers of Edinburgh is one of those things that stops you dead in your tracks. An extremely enjoyable album and well worth listening out for.
The Scots Magazine
Perthshire native and Edinburgh resident Jim Malcolm, who performs 11 of his own songs and some other folk’s forbye, is well worth a listen on his debut recording, Sconeward. Notable among Jim’s own are the arresting Scotch Blues and the thoughtful Neptune, with its cry of anguish from the spirit of the sea.
Worthy of note among tracks Jim didn’t write are two poems set to music by Jim Reid – Violet Jacob’s the Wild Geese and Helen Cruickshank’s Up the Noran Water. This album deserves a listen, as much for the words and their sentiments as for the music and performance. And for those thinking “Jim Malcolm, now surely I’ve heard that name … Yes, it is the same Jim Malcolm who hosts the Edinburgh Folk Festival’s “open stage”.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Famous Grouse House
Amid the creative ferment of Scotland’s current folk revival Cassandra-like warnings are sometimes heard concerning the supposedly imperilled state of Scots song. There’s no denying that instrumental sounds tend to dominate now, but with younger performers such as Jim Malcolm championing the vocal arts, singing looks well capable of defending its corner. Since he’s been working the circuit more consistently over the past three or four years, and particularly since he teamed up with Dave Watt and Iain MacFadyen (on keyboards and drums) as Rohallion, his voice – always a piquant instrument – has ripened and rounded out quite deliciously, with its warm jazzy glow infusing his seductively gently phrasing, and taking on a sharper, harder edge in the more upbeat contemporary numbers.
Given the right song, Jim Malcolm will just melt you in your seat.
In a sultry cellar the New Tradition series of performances by multi-influenced singers and songwriters kicks off well. Jim Malcolm mixes one traditional Scots song to two of his own composition, but wisely overcomes the songwriter’s perennial problem of a lack of good tunes by mostly fitting strong couplets, exact rhymes and sharp comments to adapted traditional Scots tunes, plus the odd Carlos Jobim air. He sings with a strong, clear voice and plays guitar in gentle, warm tones with neat melodic turns. He can be sinewy at choice and scat-diddle tasteful, and his chewy moothie-playing is exceptional: many harmonica players have made a full career out of less talent. His presentation is engagingly involving and he gets the audience singing along on standards such as Mormond Braes and Twa Recruitin Sergeants, and enjoys himself. His own songs tend towards the ecological, covering topics such as the destruction of the Caledonian Forest, global warming and the lot of the common soldier, but with wry humour and sly or lyrical comment rather than angry posturing. Then he becomes tongue-twistingly clever on the variety of expectoration the Heart of Midlothian stone receives daily.
He is billed as The Voice of Scotland Today, and it is certainly a voice worth hearing.
Fife Press Some people just have it all. Jim Malcolm is possessed of a marvellous voice, rich in timbre, yet light and versatile; his guitar playing is on the very side of being good, without being flashy, and he plays a wonderful, fluent and melodic harmonica. As if that weren’t enough, Jim also writes songs with great tunes and knows how to make them swing.
Reviews from customers who have bought our CDs
From Amazon: JAMES MALCOLM – SCONEWARD, January 3, 2004
Buying this album was without doubt one of my best musical experiences. Knowing nothing about James Malcolm or his music I was intrigued by the cover and bought the album on gut feeling. There were obvious symbols of Scotland, plus James had his guitar and harmonica. I remember thinking that only a very good singer/ musician could hold an album together on his own.
This is exactly what he does. Adapting old Scottish poems and songs he soars effortlessly and delivers a truly magical album. His voice has a warmth I had only previously associated with James Taylor.
I also have another album of his called Rohallion and that is equally as good.If you appreciate a fine musician, a unique voice and haunting lyrics then Sconeward will deliver all that.
Simon Leslie, St Albans, Herts.
REVIEWS OF OLD BLIND DOGS
Mojo After Five albums on the KRL label, Scots band Old Blind Dogs have recorded an outstanding first album, The World’s Room, for their new label Green Linnet.
There are moments when the whole house, players and audience, seem to share a wild ecstasy of emotion.
Edinburgh Evening News
Old Blind Dogs appeared on stage with the presence of five attractive young lads having a lark. Folk spice, anyone? But the skill, talent and verve with which they played belied their laddishness and the crowd responded with thunderous applause. The line-up includes brilliant young piper Rory Campbell from Deaf Shepherd, the outstanding voice of Jim Malcolm and Paul Jennings’ groovy beats.
On this evidence, folk music played with the enthusiasm of a new millennium is the new kid on the block. Forget Britpop – folk is the new rock and roll.