I think this just might be a bit special; the story goes that Ally MacLeod, sometime film-maker, dance teacher and New York City resident, was back home in the Highlands doing some work with Martin Stephenson (sometime Daintee, all-round musical wonder). Discussing their shared love of country music, Martin asked Ally to sing him a song. I suspect he had to pick his jaw up off the floor by the time she'd done; eighteen months later, here is the album he persuaded her to record in his Barbaraville studio, on the shore of the Cromarty Firth. Ally MacLeod has a voice for all the ages: strong, resonant and beautifully controlled - even at her most forceful she makes it sound like the easiest thing in the world. There's a folk quality to her voice, something like Norma Waterson perhaps, but I can hear the country influence in there too, and even a little jazz.
There are some videos on Reverbnation which demonstrate just how wonderful she sounds singing other people's songs, but Astor Place is made up entirely of her own songs - and what a fine songwriter she is. Making poetry out of everyday experience, she builds her songs from familiar situations and has a knack of finding the beauty, the dignity and the poignancy in what might seem mundane experiences. Martin Stephenson has opted for a light touch from his production seat, and, though his delicately beautiful guitar work often catches the ear, these polished gems of songs are left to reveal their qualities little by little. I love it when musicians are unafraid of the silence between notes and there's a wonderful example of that here: All The Wild Horses will have you holding your breath, unwilling to disturb the reverie Ally weaves around you with her voice.
Ally's partner in Red Hook Rapids, Donald Forbes, contributes some fine guitar and harmony vocals (in an inversion of the usual male/female vocal thing, it's Donalds voice that provides the sweetness), Allan Leckie plays keyboards, Carol Thompson is on bass guitar and Penny Costa plays the drums. Everybody plays their part without ever taking the focus from Ally's singing, and that is just as it should be. The little details of what all these fine players do make themselves known over time, and are a large part of the pleasure of listening to this record over and again, but really, this is mostly about Ally MacLeod's voice.Her singing is so authoritative, yet simultaneously tender and beautiful; the more I listen to this album, the more excited I get. Sometimes you discover an artist at a point in their career when there's a large back catalogue for you to dive into. Astor Place, however, is "the debut album", so I'll have to be patient and hope that she gets the chance to record lots (and lots) more music.