Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Jean Redpath, “Gift o’ Gowd”

While Martha and I were putting lights on our tree Sunday morning, I pulled out a couple of CDs to play. One was Still the Night, by the late Scottish folksinger Jean Redpath. My wife was a fan prior to meeting me, probably discovering her via appearances on A Prairie Home Companion*. Still the Night came out in 1999, at the very end of Redpath’s career. It was released on her own label, and it’s apparently so obscure that Wikipedia** doesn’t even list it in her discography.

Martha ripped the CD long ago and added it to the Christmas playlist on the iPod she keeps in her car. In normal years, we’d be out and about much more right now and would be hearing Redpath’s clear, lilting voice now and again as the tunes shuffled on. In particular, it seems like every year I would hear opening track “2000 Years Ago,” written by fellow Scot Alan Bell. I had planned on sharing that one with you today; however, this disk is apparently so obscure that essentially none of it appears on YouTube, either.

One of Redpath’s primary contributions over her lengthy career was a seven-disk set of recordings of songs written/collected by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. You get a sense of how she might have approached that project by listening to the one track from Still the Night I can find out there, “Gift o’ Gowd” (gowd being Gaelic for gold–it’s a song about the Magi).

*Redpath comes across as quite earnest in her approach to the craft, but check out this duet with Garrison Keillor from one of her Prairie Home appearances.

**My favorite line in Redpath’s Wikipedia entry is, “She was awarded the MBE in 1977 as well as being named a Kentucky colonel by the governor of Kentucky.” If you’re wondering what it means to be named a Kentucky Colonel, well, you can check that out here. One group of grad school friends gave me grief over and again after I told them I had been made a Colonel twice before I turned twenty.

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