FIONA ROSS & SHANE O’MARA
Sunwise Turn (fionaross.com.au)
This is quite an attractive record. And so simply done.
A collection of Scottish folk songs which come to us by voice and guitar, Sunwise Turn is about as straightforward a package as you could imagine. But that doesn’t mean what vocalist Fiona Ross and guitarist Shane O’Mara have done is easy.
The Glaswegian, Ross, who has been in Australia for 11 years, is a singer with a voice that has absolutely no modern contrivances. Or indeed any modern tone. Certainly nothing to suggest we could not have heard these songs sung this way 150 years ago.
There’s clarity and a rhythm to her phrasing and an unfussiness in her delivery that brings the stories forth through with a compelling directness. The voice itself is on the gentler side of austere, feeling mature rather than lived-in – experienced rather than roughened, if you will.
This means there’s an authority to the way she walks through This Is No’ My Plaid or anchors the spriteliness of Cam Ye O’Er Frae France, keeping them firmly in her grip, while the slowly deepening story of The Wife Usher’s Well is never allowed to even hint at maudlin, staying in its plain storytelling mode instead, just as The Slave’s Lament finds its weight through a steady accumulation of feeling suggested, not insisted.
It’s not without tenderness: Caller O’u and, especially, a slowly flowing Auld Lang Syne stir the heart as much as the spirit, but the curlicues and embellishments come instead from Melbournian O’Mara, who is one of my favourite guitarists for his ability to shape himself around whatever singer or style he approaches, and be eminently listenable without seeking to take your attention.
He is brisk and particular with his picking in Cam Ye O’Er Frae France, fluidly attractive in Kelvin’s Purling Stream and courtly beneath Ross’s elongated phrasing in Wae’s Me For Prince Charlie, but then in Capernaum the low resonance of the guitar seems to radiate from Ross’ voice not beside it, and O’Mara plays like points of emphasis emerging directly from each line in The Wife Usher’s Well. He’s good that chap.
The combination of voice and guitar where neither seeks to dominate might sound like a meeting of the recessives, but Ross and O’Mara suit each other, balance each other, and so elegantly enhance these songs.