Lightning In The Dark

Tom Fairnie

This CD was recorded in Austin with Grammy nominated producer and engineer, Merel Bregante, and features musicians who have played alongside Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson and a host of others. The original songs are a mixture of Americana and Celtic, which Merel christened Celticana.

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“Based in Edinburgh, but the album recorded in Austin with session players who’ve worked with the likes of Dylan, Cash, Willie and Jackson, Lightning In The Dark is Tom’s fifth solo album, largely co-written with Bob Shields and produced by Merel Bregante, who describes the music as Celticana with its mix of Americana and Scottish influences. The CD opens with the jaunty back beat shuffling musing on love and life that is ‘Isn’t That The Way?’, his seasoned croaky vocals backed by Dobro, mandolin, whistles and a pipes outro, and with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen on banjo. Then slowing the pace down for ‘If You Go West’, which features cello, and is a love song about travelling life’s roads together.

A folksier air informs the gathering pace and the finger-picked intro to ‘Sleeping On The Streets Of New Orleans’, the narrative of people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina, ignored by the powers that be. The same dusty mood gathering around the cello-adorned ‘No One Knows The Night’, a sketch of two lovers on a dry road through Mexico, sleeping under stars where “the breath of night was smoke and pine” and is probably the first songs to use the word propinquity since Mike Nesmith took it as a title five decades ago.

Driven by fiddle and banjo, the bluegrassy title track is in the classic tradition of country crime of passion murder ballads, the narrator having “the finest shoes walking on Death Row” after killing someone in a drunken fit of jealousy over “a dancehall diamond built to lie”, but going to the gallows with no regrets. Dave Pearlman’s Dobro is back in evidence for ‘The Only Things I Ever Cried About’ (“Where did those old times go? / Well I don’t know but they’re hard to live without / And I’d do anything / Just to have them back again”) with Sarah Pierce on harmonies and a touch of Guy Clark dry Americana rust to the voice.

Cody Braun’s mandolin brings a desert Texan border air to ‘Better Times’, a nostalgic reminiscence of the Depression and riding the boxcars and how “When you heard that whistle blowing / She was coming to a bend / The train would get to slowing / And you could help some other friend / And you could treat him like a brother / You could share the bread and the wine”. I think the contrast of eras is fairly implicit and leads naturally into ‘Give Me The Good Times’, a song Tom describes as being about “the way we seek to justify and legislate for our base desires, like greed. It can be argued that all land is theft... The frontier spirit has been used as an excuse for so many wrongs”, a slow cocktail of Clark, Kristofferson and Nelson as he sings how “Every piece of land came from killin’ / The sons of Cain inherit the earth” but that “You can’t grow gold; can’t sow silver / A drop of rain is the only thing / You can’t hold water in your fingers / Slips away like a dime store ring”.

The tempo and mood get lighter for ‘Lightning All Over Sunnyland’, mandolin and Dobro in partnership with harmonica for a track that basically runs through a check list of blues legends names, from Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters to Gary Davies, John Lee Hooker and Bessie Smith. The Lightning in question being, of course, Hopkins.

The finger-picked acoustic track, ‘A Quiet Life’ is another story song, here it is one of a saloon populated by hearts and minds broken by love, of a man who is looking for trouble to ease the hurt, “He took a bottle to the juke box”, the band behind the chicken wire singing ‘I Ain’t Ever Satisfied’ while he’s “looking for A Satisfied Mind”, a cold memory stirred by a blood red dress. As he wryly says, “But if you can’t find trouble in a bar like that / You ain’t looking hard enough”.

McEuen is back on banjo for the penultimate track, ‘The Winter Of ’72’; another murder ballad (“Big Lake was frozen over / With ice as deep as sin / Now sleeping there’s a maiden / And a cold; cold heart within”), albeit one with a jaunty front porch bounce that again brings the early Guy Clark to mind though the style stretches back to Cash and even Tex Ritter. The CD ends with the near six-minute finger-picked, cello-accompanied ‘Liberty’, a bruised love song to America, “A land with no history / No magic, no mythology”, a song that “contrasts the dangers of nationalism with the longing for freedom and independence” as the organ kicks in and the sound swells on the refrain he sings “If you could be anything for me / Be my liberty”. I have to admit, I’ve never come across Tom Fairnie before, but this has definitely earned a place on my albums of 2020 list. Mike Davies

"An Edinburgh based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues, Tom Fairnie, has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit.

Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Tom's music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowd-funding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Tom pitched up in Texas. In the studio he worked with a stellar cast of musicians who had previously played alongside the likes of Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. Lightning In The Dark is the result, an album of breathtaking Americana with Celtic influences shining through. It's a delicious fusion of styles. Dobros and banjos nestle with whistles and pipes to create something both beautiful and extraordinary - Celticana, as Bregante dubbed it. The sound is special but so, too, are the songs. Tom Fairnie's gift as a songwriter, and the easy-going but thought provoking lyrics, many of them composed with songwriting partner and fellow poet, Bob Shields, make this a stand-out album.

An absolute gem of an album. If you love Americana seek out Tom Fairnie's Lightning In The Dark. You will not be disappointed."

Darren Johnson (Darren's Music Blog) 


Imagine driving along a secluded, unlit and gloomy road, your headlights picking out the shadows of the hedges, of the trees that line the route like still soldiers on parade, then from out of nowhere, the Lightning In The Dark that illuminates more than you could ever witness when you are driving along in the sunshine, a snapshot that sparks life in your mind, and one that stays with you forever.

It is the seizing by nature of a single moment, the flash of inspiration that defines your soul in a way that sticks with you, the whole sky, the landscape, once obscure, now a greeting which sets all before you alight and one that in the nature of art is perhaps the greatest sense of occasion and poetic leaning that an artist can ever hope to capture, to harness, for their own personal use and for the education and edification of those they intend to present the snapshots of their mind to.

For Tom Fairnie, the lightning is a twinkle in the eye that has manifested into the need for prolonged exposure of the idea, refusing the impulsive, the precipitating hurried and hasty approach often sought by others in such a field of opportunity, instead the result is one of balance, of grandness folded between the sheets of humility, and one that echoes in the listener’s own thoughts as the thunder gently rolls in and the stories and the music create their own persuasive backdrop of humanity.

Across songs such as the sensitive If You Go West, the heartfelt memory that Sleeping On The Streets of New Orleans embraces, The Only Things I Ever Cried About, the excellent Give Me The Good Times and the tremendous appeal of The Winter of ’72, Tom Fairnie regales the scenes set before him, that he witnessed in one form or another, as the lightning ignited the sky and gave him a depth of vision few are blessed to see, such is the power of illumination and one made the absolute most of by the happenstance of being in the right spot to witness the Lightning In The Dark.

An album of depth, one that is beautiful and haunting, yet abundantly creative, Lightning In The Dark is a source of musical power.

Tom Fairnie’s Lightning In The Dark is out now and available to purchase from Birnam CD.

Ian D. Hall  (Liverpool Sound and Vision)


Fairnie takes the high road to Austin – His Celticana is well worth a listen

Tom Fairnie refers to his music as ‘Celticana’, which is a fair summation of his blended Americana influences and Scottish roots. The bagpipes solo kind of give it away right at the beginning. To cement this claim, Fairnie raised enough money to record this album in Austin, helmed by former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Chris Hillman Band member Merel Bregante.

Tom’s no pale youth, and his singing voice is something of a Prine-esque croak, but it sits very nicely with the laid back acoustic sounds and sharply crafted, pathos-loaded lyrics. The record starts strongly – ‘Isn’t That the Way’ nails the Celticana vibe – reflecting on life’s contradictions in a cheery, folksy manner. ‘If You Go West’ is more intimate and wisdom-of-ages. It’s somewhere close to beautifully sad. ‘Sleeping on the Streets of New Orleans’ mixes hard luck stories, played in a minor key, with jazzy interludes – it works really well and cements Fairnie’s bold opening stanza. Titular track ‘Lightning in the Dark’ is a cheery ‘damn you Mr Hangman, I’ve lived my life’ refrain, powered by driving fiddle. ‘Better Times’ is a strong slice of bleakness and loss, a suitable track to herald what follows. All across these twelve tracks the arrangements are excellent, almost perfect. So much so there’s even a flavour of Cash ‘American Recordings’ about the whole record. Coming from this writer, that’s very high praise.

However, the album as a whole meanders a little in its second half, the songs aren’t quite as strong (‘Lightning All Over Sunnyland’ is somewhat clichéd in its roll call of blues legends). The old guy wisdom angle is repeated a little too much, although ‘A Quiet Life’ bucks the trend and ‘Liberty’ is a high watermark that draws the record to a conclusion (particularly when the full band kicks in unexpectedly). Had Tom stopped at eight or nine tracks, the whole record would be a true banger. It’s still pretty good – the first three tracks are superb.

8/10 Americana UK Mark Nenadic


Tom Fairnie is an Edinburgh based singer songwriter, he did not start performing until the age of fifty and Lightning In The Dark is his fifth solo album. Recorded in Austin Texas with veteran producer, Merel Bregante, this is Celticana, as Tom calls it, at its finest. This album represents the very best of modern Americana with sessions from players from the US, The Netherlands and Scotland perfectly blended with the tracks laid down in Austin and what Tom calls 'the trip of a lifetime' made possible through the 21st century grassroots phenomenon that is crowd-funding.

The music is of course timeless, burnished and buffed by experience, with most of the songs written in collaboration with friend and poet Bob Shields. The results are finely crafted songs with a pared back zen simplicity. "Isn't That The Way?" and the brilliant "If You Go West", talk of lessons hard learnt, experience and regret, with Tom's characterful voice breathing life into the stories. "Sleeping On The Streets Of New Orleans" has a little jazz sparkle with Michal Jesionowski's soprano sax and David Webb's electric piano funk adding a little Joni ‘Hejira’ sparkle. Again Tom's voice adds weight and gravitas to lines about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "No One Knows The Night" and "Better Times" have a lightness of touch, with a Tom Russell pathos carried by angelic chorus vocals and an achingly beautiful cello and mandolin parts. "Lightning In The Dark" is a defiant Country shout into the dark, with lyrics from a Philip Marlowe noir detective movie voice over.

"Give Me The Good Times" is a solo Fairnie composition, a wry weighty reflection on a life well lived that wouldn't sound out of place on a Rick Rubin Johnny Cash album. "Lightning All Over Sunnyland" is a joyous playful litany of blues touchstones and heroes, delivered with a smile. "A Quiet Life" is a chillingly dark song, a short story set to music and delivered by Tom at his most world weary as the dreadful situation plays out. "Liberty" is anthemic, with the poetic lyrics burning bright, drawing power from Mike Dorrien's huge electric guitar with a late on slab of electric Folk Rock, a, blast to end the album on.

This is a grower and that sentence about coals and Newcastle, as if it matters, forget it, this is a perfect transatlantic meeting of minds, ideas and music. Real life, real voice, telling stories that live and breathe.

Marc Higgins


The Scottish poet and singer-songwriter, Tom Fairnie, had not come across my musical radar until now and his crowd-funded album is, by my count, his eleventh album release in one form or another. Tom is based in Edinburgh and has been a member of The Travelling Waverlies, was a founder of Edinburgh’s monthly poet and songwriter circle, Foakies, and has appeared a number of times at the city’s Fringe Festival.

However, he left Edinburgh and Scotland behind to travel to Cribworks Digital Audio, the studio of Merel Bregante, a well-known producer in Austin, Texas, which increasingly rivals Nashville as a hub of musical creativity. Merel christened Tom’s musical style Celticana; Americana with a light infusion of Scottish musical spirit.

Playing acoustic guitar and with a well-honed croaky vocal signature, Tom is firmly on the country side of the Americana / Country border. Featuring his fellow poet and long-time friend and collaborator, Bob Shields, the twelve tracks cover the full gamut of themes one would expect from that genre.

The songs date back to 2001 with the latest written in 2018. Sleeping On The Streets Of New Orleans relates to those so badly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has a folkier feel. No One Knows The Night brings out the more romantic expanse of a remote dry road through Mexico and a sketch of two lovers on it, while The Only Things I Ever Cried About covers a common theme of a loss of the good times.

Death and destruction fuel the title track driven by banjo and fiddle in a bluegrass vein, telling the story of a guy who kills in a fit of jealousy and goes to the gallows with no regrets.

The lyrics are self-penned throughout, with Tom providing the melodies and arrangements. Twenty musicians and supporting vocalists recruited from the abundant talent in and around Austin, combined with high standards of production, have created a very professional end product with a quality digipack presentation including a visually striking front cover. Tom should rightfully be proud of what he has created with the support of so many friends and musicians. 

Joe Whittaker  Folk London


The term Celticana seems to be gaining in popularity and Edinburgh based Tom Fairnie certainly seems to embrace it. Recording in Austin, Texas with a fine bunch of local players, (which, on occasion, includes John McEuen of  Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Fame) Fairnie fairly leaps out of the traps on Lightning In The Dark’s opening song, Isn’t That The Way? with pipes and whistles added to the banjo, mandolin and fiddle skirling and with Fairnie singing like Butch Hancock, it certainly adds a Celtic lilt to a dusty hoedown although the bagpipes at the end might be a tad too much.

However, that’s pretty much where the Celtic influences end, and the remaining songs cleave to a familiar Texas singer-songwriter sound. They’re all well crafted and Fairnie has not only a flair for capturing some arresting stories and images in his words (often written in conjunction with Bob Shields) but also a wonderfully wearied voice. No One Knows The Night is reminiscent of Tom Russell and the title song rattles along in a satisfying Guy Clark manner. Meanwhile there’s fun to be had in the joyous tribute to several folk-blues greats on Lightning All Over Sunnyland.    Paul Kerr (RnR Magazine)


Life is full of surprises! Take Tom Fairnie, a songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland with four solo CDs behind him who has had reasonable local success and quite a bit of appreciation from the press and local and national radio, but without any real recognition from the general public. One way or another, his music reached the ears of Merel Bregante, the American musician and producer, who himself had played with Loggins & Messina and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He was impressed by Tom's songs and voice and invited him to come to his studio near Austin, Texas in order to record some songs. A crowd-funding campaign made that dream come true: Tom went to Texas with a collection of songs under his arm, Merel opened his address book, contacted some musicians, and a dozen songs were recorded by Bregante in the Celicana genre: a mix of acoustic, Scottish folk, with Americana approaches and themes.

Now, the CD, Lightning In The Dark, is available to us via Xango Music from Utrecht and we can listen to the results, which were largely written by Tom himself or in collaboration with fellow poet, Bob Shields. The songs are chock full of hidden messages and excel at storytelling and they describe characters by observing and creating personae who may or may not be real.

Opener "Isn't That The Way" talks about life and love and introduces you to the grainy voice of Tom, surrounded by dobro and mandolin, bagpipes and folky whistles, but above all a rather punishing banjo part that, upon review, turns out to come from John McEuen; a guy with a great CV who knew Bregante from their time together in The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. That song reminds you of Kris Kristofferson and that impression certainly doesn't deviate with "Sleeping on the Streets of New Orleans," a slow folk song that tells the story of the mass victims of Hurricane Katrina, who were forgotten and remain forgotten by the government at the time and to this day.

In the even slower but heavenly beautiful "The Only Things I Ever Cried About", the Guy Clark side of Tom emerges in combination with the singing with Sarah Pierce and the dobro, which turns out to be Dave Pearlman's; another person with a past, from Michelle Schocked and The Long Ryders to Eleni Mandell, Chris Gaffney, Hans Theessink and BeauSoleil, to mention a few. Cody Braun's (Reckless Kelly) mandolin takes the crown in "Better Times," a song about the Great Depression, but at the same time the impetus for "Give Me The Good Times," a song about the human ability to rationalize our own actions, doubts and desires. The chorus goes like this: "Give me the good times, I'll take the bad times, give me a woman, give me a gun, give me just one silver bullet, I'll show you how it's done". I don’t think you can get much closer to Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.

A little lighter fare follows with "Lightning All Over Sunnyland", an up tempo song, which you can use if you want a layman’s introduction to the Blues. Then a contrast to "A Quiet Life," where a guy seeks misery and violence in a bar, just to relieve his own heartache. The phrase "But if you can't find trouble in a bar like that, you ain't looking hard enough", could be heard from Ray Wylie Hubbard's mouth. I haven’t covered everything, but take it from me, there’s no doubt that there are very few songwriter records being made this year, even approaching the level of this CD. Despite the fact that Fairnie is ready for his sixth record, he is one of the discoveries of the year.

(Dani Heyvaert      Rootstime)