Contemporary traditional folk music is not an oxymoron in Scotland! From the Highlands and Islands to the Borders and everywhere in between, Scotland is home to many varieties of beautiful regional folk music, most of which are alive and well -- thriving, even -- in the hands of this generation of folk musicians. Care to have a listen? Read on!
"Forward with Scotland's Past" is the motto of the Battlefield Band, who are probably the best-known ambassadors of Scottish contemporary traditional music. The band kicked off in Glasgow in 1969, and has morphed quite a bit over the years (they sure have an impressive gallery of past members), but they continue to release exciting, relevant CDs that any fan of Celtic music can enjoy, including Line-up, which sports a nice variety of traditional songs and folky originals, as well as a lovely (if offbeat) cover of Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is." The Battlefield Band is an absolute blast to see live, so if you ever get the chance, don't miss them!
The Old Blind Dogs are a forward-thinking group who combine the folk music of their hometown, Aberdeen (and her surrounding environs), with dribs and drabs of influences from around the world. Wherever Yet May Be is a great example of their ability to make traditional songs sound new and new songs sound old.
Five fiddle players (plus a keyboard player) strong, this group from the Highlands and Islands includes both micro-local, nearly-forgotten solo fiddle tunes and big, bold, twenty-stringed numbers in their repertoire. Watching them live is a real treat as, first off, they always sound great, but also when they all play at once, their bows seem to dance in unison, which is an oddly entertaining sight.
Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas are a US-based fiddle and cello duo. Though many may not associate the cello with Scottish music, Central Lowlands-born Fraser insists that the cello used to be commonplace in Scottish folk dance music (and, indeed, many genres of folk dance music), playing the bass lines and carrying the rhythms of the songs. The music of Fraser and Haas is easy to love, making them a popular act on the performing arts circuit on both sides of the Atlantic.
Lau is a stripped-down three-piece formed in Edinburgh but sporting more rural roots: guitarist Kris Drever is from Orkney (as is the band's name; it's an Orcadian word meaning "Light"), fiddler Aidan O'Rourke is from Oban, and accordion player Martin Green is from East Anglia, England. Their sound leans toward the jazzy, but keeps one foot firmly planted in Scottish tradition.
This phenomenal group, based in the Isle of Skye, has twice won the "Live Act of the Year" trophy at the Scottish Traditional Music Awards, and if you have a listen to their stellar live album, you'll hear why. It's simply great, danceable, forward-thinking traditional music.
Shooglenifty is probably the most fun band name to say, certainly on this list, but probably in the whole world. Say it out loud -- it rolls in your mouth like a Peanut M&M. But that's rather besides the point, isn't it? They're a really fun, high-energy band who incorporate a lot of outside influence into a sound that remains uniquely Scottish. This live album is a good example of their creative treatment of songs and their animated onstage sound.
Julie Fowlis comes from the Hebrides, and sings traditional Hebridean Gaelic songs with a light touch and just the tiniest bit of modern flair. Her voice is really beautiful, and it's a joy to hear her preserving these old songs. If you're a fan of Irish singers like Karan Casey or Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, you cannot go wrong here. Oh, and "cuilidh" is pronounced "COOL-ee."
Capercaillie is one of the best-known bands in Scottish music, and in contemporary traditional music in general. Headed by golden-voiced Karen Matheson and chock-a-block with some of the finest instrumentalists that Scotland has ever produced, this group consistently releases outstanding records and wows audiences around the world. Roses and Tears leans gently toward the pop side of things, making it a great intro album for someone new to Scottish music, but it's also a favorite among long-time fans.