by Kerry Dexter
There’s a statue of him in Canberra and a town named after him in Oregon, his words have inspired writers in India and musicians in Russia, and every year at the end of January, people across the world gather to remember the birth and life of this poet. More than two centuries after his time, his work is widely known by those who love poetry and Scotland, and those who don’t know a thing about either. This is Scotland’s national bard, poet and songwriter Robert Burns.
Jim Malcolm is a Scot, too, and a musician, from Highland Perthshire. He’s been honored for both his writing and his singing. Still, given Burns’ prolific output (he wrote or revised more than three hundred songs and poems) and his well-known presence in all thing Scottish, it’s a challenge for any musician from Scotland to find an approach and choose a program of songs that adds his or her own stamp to the ploughman poet’s work. It’s a challenge Malcolm meets well in his album Acquaintance.
His approach is conversational and low-key (this is the man who has been called the James Taylor of Scotland, after all), with at times a dash of humor and at times an honoring of the poet’s lyrical side. Malcolm opens the collection with Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin, a lively piece that’s a bit of a Burns autobiography. Another side of Burns, the political one which included belief in the value and equality of all, comes out in A Man’s a Man for A’ That. You can almost laugh along with the farmer’s wife and see him dancing in The Ploughman. Jim Malcolm and Robert Burns both show their senses of humor in The Shepherd’s Wife, as well.
Malcolm’s own wife, Susie, who is a very fine singer in her own right, joins in for a duet on that one. Westin Winds is a lyrical vignette of the Scottish landscape, and Malcolm’s own song, Killikrankie, stands in good company alongside the writings of Robert Burns.
Whether you are recalling a trip to Scotland or dreaming of one, Jim Malcolm’s album makes a fine traveling companion. If you’re still a bit foggy on just who Robert Burns was and why his name sounds familiar — the album is called Acquaintance, and the closing song on it is Auld Lang Syne.
You might like to read about two other great contemporary takes on Robert Burns music, one by Eddi Reader and the other by Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan. You might also like to see Jim and Susie Malcolm singing his own song Fields of Angus.
As a policy of A Traveler’s Library, we tell you about affiliate links. The links included here may make it possible for you to listen to excerpts of the music, and the ones to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. If you buy anything through the affiliate links in this post, you will be supporting the site Music Road. Thank you. The photographs are by Kerry Dexter and are copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.