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George Graham Reviews David Olgivy's "A Scottish American Songbook"

The Graham Album Review #2136

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David Ogilvy: A Scottish American Songbook

(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/9/2022)

The British-Isles folk scene has attracted a small but dedicated following over the generations, since Fairport Convention, The Pentangle and Steeleye Span appeared in the late 1960s. Many of the artists who emerged with the style became very influential on other artists to this day, despite the passing of a number of key figures such as John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. But there continue to be artists who keep the scene going, both in the traditional styles like Celtic groups, and somewhat more contemporary oriented artists. This week, we have an example of the latter. It’s by David Ogilvy, and his latest album is called A Scottish American Songbook.

Sixty-four-year-old, David Ogilvy was born in London, and divided his time between London and Scotland, and also spent a fair amount of time in the US. Traditional music was not his main occupation initially in his career. In early 1980s, he launched a successful dance club in London’s Soho district, and was a DJ there, often playing old soul and R&B music.

Later, he concentrated more on songwriting and was a multi-instrumentalist studio musician and ran his own studio. He played on the final album by British pop star Cilla Black. Ogilvy signed a music publishing deal for composing, and created the music for a number of films, including “The Flock” starring Richard Gere. Along the way, he recorded three of his own albums starting in 2005.

In 2013, he got back in the business of running a venue for music, in this case what he calls a salon for purely acoustic music and with the addition of poets and writers delivering their work.

Perhaps inspired by his acoustic music policy in his live venue, Ogilvy’s new album is primarily acoustic and largely a collection of traditional songs, including some that were staples of the English folk groups of the 1960s and 70s. But his arrangements can be quite interesting – not just acoustic guitar doing old folk songs, but a lot of varied musical textures, which can sometimes evoke a kind of spookiness. At others one can be reminded of early Leonard Cohen. It’s all very well done, with Ogilvy playing most of the instruments himself by overdubbing, but with some help from acoustic bassist Andy Hamill, accordionist Karen Quick, percussionist Pike Ogilvy, and fiddler Carmen Phelan.

It’s interesting that most of the traditional songs on the album are ones that have been recorded by many others over the years, including two which were given their definitive recordings by the Pentangle fifty years ago.

The album opens The Night Walker which is not a traditional folk song. The digital edition of this album, which we are using, does not have composer’s credits, but I’m guessing this could be an original composition. And also unlike most of the rest of the album, it’s done as a piano ballad. <<>>

Following is The Partisan a song from the French antifascist resistance during World War II. Leonard Cohen made the tune famous in his recording of a translation, and David Ogilvy uses that as a template for his version, which is nicely done. <<>>

One of the classic folk songs that everybody did in the 1960s folk scene is The Water Is Wide. Ogilvy gives it a rather straight version that is tastefully performed. <<>>

A song called Miller’s Farm is given a kind of sad cabaret treatment, complete with a melancholy-sounding accordion. <<>>

The Scottish of the album’s title comes out on one of its highlights, The Road and the Miles to Dundee which Ogilvy renders in a kind of spooky treatment, appropriate for one those old tragic ballads. <<>>

Another of those songs that was a staple in the 1960s folk scene is Wild Mountain Thyme, a song recorded by everyone from Joan Baez to Van Morrison to Ed Sheeran. Ogilvy and friends take it pretty straight with pleasing results. <<>>

Lord Franklin was also recorded by the Pentangle as well as by Bob Dylan decades ago. The tragic story about lamenting for a lost sailor, is given an appropriately haunting treatment. <<>>

If there was ever a classic folk song, it’s Red Red Rose by Robert Burns. The arrangement contains a little bluesy slide guitar, but otherwise, it’s done pretty much to perfection. <<>>

David Ogilvy’s new appropriately named album, A Scottish American Songbook is a great collection of mostly traditional songs done in creative, though not disruptive arrangements. The instrumentation is almost all acoustic, and Ogilvy’s vocals are warm and personable. While Ogilvy plays most of the instruments himself by overdubbing, his small supporting cast do a nice job of providing some of the textures that makes this album so nice to listen to.

Our grade for sound quality is close to a “A” with good clarity, an intimate sound and restrained use of effects.

It’s a truism that what goes around tends to come around again in music. David Ogilvy on his new album does an impressive job of breathing new life into some old folk songs with interesting but understated arrangements.

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This page last updated November 20, 2022