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)