Listeners with long memories will recall Barbara as a key member (lead singer) of the first two incarnations of Ceolbeg, prior to which she’d served her apprenticeship in a cappella outfit Fair Game. She disappeared from the folk scene in the 90s, working for 30 years as a medical specialist, before (upon taking early retirement) the call of music became too much to resist and eventually she teamed up again with Christine Kydd to form the duo Sinsheen, whose well-received CD Lift appeared a year or so back.
Hilbert’s Hotel – named after the hypothetical paradox of a hotel with an infinite number of occupied rooms (don’t ask!) – is therefore, I guess, Barbara’s ostensibly-solo debut CD, on which she’s backed mostly by Carol Anderson (fiddle), Martin MacDonald (guitars) and Kenny Hadden (whistle and flute), and the album’s producer Michael Marra on occasional moothie, with Michael’s son Chris playing guitar on one track (an affecting cover of Kim Richey’s A Place Called Home). Accompaniments are abundantly stylish, both modestly conceived and imaginatively accomplished, and add to the already considerable appeal of Barbara’s singing voice and interpretive abilities.
The material’s a fairly eclectic mix, although inevitably concentrating mostly on the more traditional side of things. Contrasted high points come with fine renditions of two Child Ballads (Edward, done to the Appalachian tune based on one of the variants collected by Sharp, and The Unquiet Grave, using Hedy West’s tune), a spirited portrayal of Michael Marra’s seedy character Muggie Sha’, and a pairing of two Burns songs, The Gallant Weaver and Blythe Was She (the latter three coincidentally among the handful of items Barbara sings a cappella on this disc). Barbara also treats us to a pair of selections from Ord’s Bothy Songs And Ballads (Billy Taylor and Geordie Downie), and an attractive Burns night visiting song (Let Me In This Ae Nicht).
None of the CD’s renditions are anything less than reliable and genuinely entertaining, and I quickly got used to Barbara’s own setting of Mary Brooksbank’s When Fortune Turns The Wheel after clocking its more-than-passing resemblance to The Flower Of Magherally. So yes, anyone who thrilled to the Sinsheen CD or Barbara’s previous recordings will I’m sure wish to get reacquainted with her in the surroundings of this “hotel of infinite delights”.