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CALANAIS An Lantair ANCD 001

On the hill above the village of Callanish on the western coast of the Isle of Lewis, an arrangement of stones have stood defiantly against natures formidable forces for 5000 years. Arguably second only in importance to Stonehenge the standing stones of Callanish have, like their more famous cousin, had every conceivable theory put forward about their original purpose. There may be doubt over their origin, but there is no doubting the effect that they can have on those that see them. Although I have seen them countless times I never tire of visiting them, which is perhaps due to the way the atmosphere of the place changes with the unpredictable Lewis weather.

For those of you that have read this far and are now utterly confused as to what this is doing in a music magazine. I should explain. The An Lantair museum in Stornoway has put together an exhibition of artistic responses to the stones and this CD represents the musical aspect of the exhibition. An Lanntair asked a number of Scottish musicians to give their own musical expressions of what the stones mean to them. People such as Dougie MacLean, Anna Murray, Patsy Sneddon and Mary MacMaster from the folk scene, Tommy Smith and Martin Taylor from the Jazz side and a couple of poets Ian Stephen and Derick Thompson provide their unique responses to the enigma that is the Callanish Stones.

As you might expect there is a ethereal feel to many of the tracks with the keyboard providing the essential "atmosphere". The ubiquitous (and welcome) Phil Cunningham provides two of the tracks as well as providing the backing to the opening poem. "Cearcall Soillearachd" (circle of light) sees Phil in a traditional vein with help from Duncan MacGillvray on the Bagpipes. "Cearcall Doillearachd" (circle of Darkness) sees the same pairing in a more sombre mood.

As you might expect there is a ethereal feel to many of the tracks with the keyboard providing the essential "atmosphere". The ubiquitous (and welcome) Phil Cunningham provides two of the tracks as well as providing the backing to the opening poem. "Cearcall Soillearachd" (circle of light) sees Phil in a traditional vein with help from Duncan MacGillvray on the Bagpipes. "Cearcall Doillearachd" (circle of Darkness) sees the same pairing in a more sombre mood.

Dougie MacLean is suitably "atmospheric" with his "Gneiss Wind" track complete with wind effects and hypnotic percussion. Sileas aka Mary MacMaster and Patsy Sneddon, also go for the mystic feel with their "ringing" harps with "puirt a Beul" (mouth music) interwoven. Tommy Smith uses the sound of the sea as well as the wind in his piece entitled "An Tobar" (The Well). The amazing guitarist Martin Taylor does what he does best on the track "Laoidh an tir" (Hymn of the Land). Quite simply the man is a genius with a guitar.

Fred Morrison's on pipes, Eildh Shaws on fiddle and Davy Steeles on keyboard (now collectively known as "Urbn Ri") accompany Derick Thomson performing his own poem "Aig Tursachan Chalanais" (At the Callanish Stones) to end the CD.

As you might expect from such a diverse range of performers the material on this CD is varied. Yet the CD is nowhere near as disjointed as I thought it would be, from reading the blurb. The "ethereal" factor binds the whole collection together with most of the contributors obviously feeling the stones are a heavily "spiritual" place. On a warm (sic) summers night as the sun sinks slowly into the horizon, it would be hard to disagree with them.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 11 of The Living Tradition magazine.