Love fiddles, flutes, and bagpipes? Did you watch Braveheart and get a hankering to move to Scotland? If so, you’re probably already a casual fan of Scottish folk music – or at least music inspired by Scottish folk styles.
The problem with being a casual lover of any genre of music is that you don’t know where to go for more good samples of it. You probably stumbled across your first taste of Scottish folk music by luck. But you haven’t exactly been keeping up with the Scottish folk music scene from across the pond.
Fortunately, as I’ve slowly gone further down the rabbit hole of this great genre, I’ve found some more gateway albums your ears are going to love.
Naturally Disney/Pixar’s 2012 movie made a big splash for Scottish folk music, with its tale of a strongheaded young Scottish girl. Patrick Doyle’s score features lovely, heavy doses of fiddle, flute, and bagpipes. Scots Gaelic folksinger Julie Fowlis has two major cuts in the soundtrack which are definite keepers. And even Emma Thompson gets a beautiful Gaelic-language duet with a little girl on “Noble Maiden Fair.”
2. “A History of Scotland”
Here’s another Scotland-inspired film score from a recent BBC history of Scotland, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. This album is the most orchestra-powered of the bunch here, with light sprinkling of Scottish folk sounds, instruments, and conventions as it tells the story of Scotland’s troubled history. “The Battle of Stirling” is one of the best offerings.
3. “Spirit of Scotland”
This is straight-up Scottish folk music, gathering together some of the genre’s modern players for a collection of upbeat fiddle tunes and sad Gaelic folk songs (I assume they’re sad – I don’t speak Gaelic). Julie Fowlis makes another appearance here, reinforcing the importance of listening to Julie Fowlis at every opportunity. She is fantastic.
4. “Outlander”, Seasons 1 and 2 Scores
Bear McCreary’s score to recent Starz hit series Outlander might come to rival James Horner’s Braveheart as one of the most powerful Scotland-tinged film scores. The three albums produced so far use traditional Scottish instruments with orchestral accompaniment to create great sense of mystery, fantasy, and romance. You almost feel like you’ve fallen back in time to one of the Jacobite rebellions.
These albums aren’t all instrumentals, though. The Raya Yarbrough rendition of traditional Scottish tune The Skye Boat Song is haunting. Other artists provide quiet, harped Gaelic songs, like “The Woman of Balnain.”
5. “Transatlantic Sessions,” Any Album
Technically, this one is a mash of Irish, American, and Scottish folk music styles, but if I know you, I think you’re going to like it. This gaggle of brilliant international folk musicians is headed up by American dobro player Jerry Douglas and Scottish fiddle player Aly Bain and features some excellent crossovers among and between these different folk traditions.
To give you an idea of how brilliant these sessions are, I’m going to start you off with this version of Bela Fleck’s “Big Country.”
If you dig it, you can get a full playlist of these recordings from over the years on Spotify:
What else am I missing? I’m always on the hunt for great new Scottish folk(ish) music, so if you have a recommendation, let me know in the comments!