Crate-Digging: Ross Couper & Tom Oakes – The (EP)

 ross and couper

(self released, 2010)

In 2009, a little-known band (at least here in the United States) caught the attention of many when they won the Scottish Folk Band of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards. The band was called Bodega, and it was comprised of five very talented young musicians, all with a love for the craft and an affinity for traditional music. Among these musicians was Ross Couper, playing the fiddle (mostly). I’m familiar with Bodega from the two (or three?) times they visited my town at our annual Celtic festival, and I remember being very impressed then by his prowess as a musician and performer.

Well, Bodega’s no longer together. They were young and inexperienced in the art of touring; they each had their own idea of what the future should hold for their musical careers. I’m not sure where some of the band members ended up, but Norrie MacIver (the lead singer and rhythm guitarist) has gone on to become the front man of an excellent new band, Mànran, and Ross Couper, in addition to joining the already-established Peatbog Faeries, has also toured and recorded with a guitarist/flautist/composer by the name of Tom Oakes.

epThe only recording from the duo that I found was a four-song EP (so small it could really just be called a sampler) simply entitled The (not sure if it’s supposed to be The EP or simply The). I downloaded amidst the plethora of other Celtic music that I always end up downloading the day after the local Celtic festival ends (bagpipes: the miracle hangover cure!), and began listening to it right away.

The EP has a very strong opening with “Gillian’s,” a beautifully constructed dance song with excellent rhythm guitar from Tom Oakes, and of course Couper’s phenomenal touch on the fiddle. The song goes at a hearty pace for about four minutes, then it drops into a sort of bridge, with Couper plucking the fiddle and Oakes playing a simple chord progression. Slowly, the tune builds into a spectacular climax, eventually leading back into the main melody of the song.

Track 2, “The Last Gasp,” begins with Couper using his fiddle as a drone; a backdrop for a heartfelt melodic performance from Oakes. It’s a much slower tune than “Gillian’s,” sounding almost mournful (although I guess that’s what I should expect from a song with such a title). The tune of this song is simple and touching, calling to mind (my mind, anyway), beautiful green fields and fond farewells from old friends.

Track 3, “Hjeltefjord,” starts off as a nice little tune; nothing spectacular, but good in a simple kind of way. About halfway through the song though, the guitar drops off for a second as Couper picks up the pace on his fiddle, and suddenly it’s a jig! If you can picture a bunch of little Scottish kids with red hair dancing and running around in a little village full of chickens and what-not, that’s basically what this song is the musical equivalent of. Well, maybe not exactly, but I couldn’t help but think of The Secret of Kells while I was listening to it. A very fun track.

The EP ends with “Tumlaren,” another song of two parts. The first half of the song is a wonderful slow piece led by Couper, with Oakes providing accompaniment on a softly-plucked guitar. The piece is very nice, but the song really gets going at around the 3-minute mark. Oakes trades in the delicate plucking for a faster and easier strumming, and Couper starts wasting bow hair like a maniac, playing an exciting and very impressive reel.

In all, I’m very happy with this EP. Tom Oakes and Ross Couper are both tried and true musicians, both clearly have a deep love for what they do and they clearly have the skills to accomplish their goals. It’s always sad when a good band goes defunct, but I’m glad to see some members of Bodega still putting music out there for us to hear, and I’m glad to hear how excellent that music is! As good as Bodega was, Ross Couper has certainly matured as a musician over the past few years, and I’m excited to see where his career leads. I’m not as familiar with Tom Oakes, having only heard him play on this EP so far, but he’s clearly a great talent; he’s a skilled folk-guitarist in addition to creating beautiful arrangements for the songs themselves. The bottom line: if you like Celtic folk music, you want The EP.

RIYL:  Mànran, Peatbog Faeries, Bodega


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