Sea of Life, CD by the North Ness Boys.
If you, like so many others, have enjoyed the live performances of the North Ness Boys over the years, this album will come as a welcome opportunity to have direct access to their music.
In this CD you get a flavour of the singing style, and some of the songs, which have been around the Jamieson family for at least two generations – the boys dedicate the album to their late father, Pat, whose singing as a solo artist, and also as a member of various gospel groups most notably the Pathfinders, was well known and respected.
As you read the sleeve-notes and listen to this recording you cannot but reflect on Pat’s musical input with the members of his own family, which was to become the bedrock of a unique style of delivery, and which permeates their songs today.
That delivery is powerful, pure, joyous and adventurous, yet always sweetly melodic and sensitive to the mood of the piece. Whether it is Clive’s lead voice setting that mood, or all three voices in close harmony, there is a unity in what they do, and an unmistakeable family style.
They have recorded here an approximately even mix of 20 sacred and secular songs, a prodigious effort clearly reflecting the material they most enjoy performing, and their sources are many and varied.
Listening to the songs and glancing through the credits, it is perhaps not surprising that their main influences tend also to be male voices of memorable delivery, including Jerry Reid, Hoyt Axton, Bill Gaither, the Gatlin Brothers, Elvis Presley and the Statler Brothers, to name but a few.
These might be the sources, but the North Ness Boys create individual and unique arrangements which add a freshness to the songs, sometimes with layers of precisely delivered close harmony, and including two songs, Rowin Foula Doon and Peace in the Valley, sung confidently a capella.
On all the other songs each member of the trio provides accompaniment, Clive on a rock-steady rhythm guitar, Aubrey providing purposeful bass and Trevor adding a fascinating range of instruments including his familiar soaring mandolin breaks, some well-chosen tenor banjo and cello which helps create a wonderfully filled-out sound on If That Isn’t Love and Till The Storm Passes By.
He further demonstrates his instrumental prowess by adding beautiful guitar runs to Mansion Over the Hilltop as well as gut-stringed guitar to Evangeline, underlining the song’s Mexican setting. He also adds a surprisingly effective bluesey harmonica to the sacred song Where Could I Go.
The North Ness Boys are however first and foremost a voice-based group, and the combination of varied harmony styles combined with this wealth of instruments means you have a lot to delight your ear. Each track stands apart, demonstrating the care and attention the group has given to their own arranging.
The brothers have all been involved in various recordings previously, but have never until now come together with the express purpose of capturing their own sound. They claim that this would not have happened but for the encouragement of their wives and cousins in Orkney which led to the recording being done there. All are to be congratulated on their far-sightedness.
The album is very well recorded and mixed by Philip Anderson at Stormsound Studios, Kirkwall, and is also a pleasing visual package.
Shetland may not produce many singing groups, but what the North Ness Boys have created here adds welcome breadth and depth to our music scene. It will also undoubtedly widen considerably their already extensive list of admirers in Shetland and way beyond.