(Dunkeld-Blix Street Records, CD)
Dougie MacLean is a Scottish folk music superstar. His latest CD, Inside the Thunder, is about his 20th release in 30 years of music-making. It contains a bit of everything that has made him such a popular performer: dreamy lyrics, heartfelt songwriting and lush guitar parts that match his honey-smooth singing style. But as artful as the writing, singing and arranging is, every song on the album sounds much like those that have come before.
MacLean found his sound around the time that he recorded "Ready for the Storm," a tune from his 1982 album Craigie Dhu. It seems as though MacLean has yet to find a reason to deviate from that winning formula.
Live, MacLean typically performs with just a guitar, but he's also an accomplished fiddler and mandolin player. As this CD proves, he's clearly his own favorite backup band. Thunder also contains lavish string and synth parts courtesy of MacLean's son Jamie, who produced the recording.
Two songs on the new album with strong political messages are "It's Not For Me" and "Into the Flames." Unfortunately, the pretty arrangements make the words almost secondary to the music. Still, you'd have to travel far and wide to find a more capable singer, guitarist and performer than MacLean.
One of the strongest tracks on Thunder is "Song For Johnny," a requiem for the much-loved and too-soon-departed Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham. Here MacLean's sweet sound is more than justified.
"You Have Found a Home" features a lovely refrain that sends the listener a-floating. "You have found a home in the center of the circle / Where the harmonies can shine / And in the breathing of the turning leaves your heart is heard forever," he sings in a near-chant.
MacLean seems to be truly at home on stage, and can make an audience feel right at home. His live show is usually a sure bet; hear for yourself when he plays Higher Ground on Sunday, Sept. 17, as part of the Events for Tom Series.