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TOMMY COUPER "The Piper's Muse" KRL CDLDL1275
ALAN BAIN "Piobaireachd" Own label BAINCD001

Two more piping albums bringing the Great Highland Bagpipe to a wider audience: both deserve a listen from players and devotees of Scottish music.

Tommy Couper's album is very much in the mould of Rory Campbell's "Piper's Whim" (CDLDL 1250), a collection of new and old pipe tunes played by an excellent young(ish) piper and backed by a folk band. If the piper can hack it, this is a dynamite combination and has produced bands such as Ossian, Battlefield, Ceolbeg and Deaf Shepherd. Tommy Couper definitely has what it takes.

Highland and Border pipes are joined by flute, fiddle, guitar, keyboards and drums on a wide range of tunes (mainly jigs, actually!) with some of the silliest names I've come across: it's hard to believe that Tommy's compositions "Dug Eating Beetroot" or "Think of a Name for Friday" will feature on many album sleeves, but they're both great tunes and sit happily alongside traditional gems such as "Cockerel in the Creel" and "Hag at the Churn".

Talking of gems, the slow air "The Jewel of Scotland" should certainly catch on. The strongly rhythmic arrangement may not be to everyone's taste, but the tune is a cracker. At the other end of the tempo spectrum, the final set of reels shows exactly how to combine pipes with other instruments in the Scottish tradition as Tommy makes light work of some classic traditional reels.

Alan Bain's recording is a very different bag of tricks. This is more like piping used to be, with a meaty drone sound and plenty of really old tunes in interesting modes. Alan's family is from Lochalsh, almost the islands, and there's a very definite Gaelic accent to most of his music. The connection between the Gaelic language and the music of the pipes is a hot topic amongst musicians and folklorists alike, and this recording adds a valuable piece to the historical puzzle.

As for the music itself, Alan is a very competent piper but most of the interest lies in his style rather than his technique. Familiar marches and jigs such as "The Atholl Highlanders' March to Loch Katrine" or "Paddy's Leather Britches" take on a much punchier and more full-bodied sound than we often hear nowadays, while the slow airs are somehow more poignant.

It has to be said that "Piobaireachd" is not as clear as most commercial recordings. The tone and volume vary quite a bit, more like a field recording than a modern studio take. However, this appears to result in a beautiful blue sheen to the face of the CD: most attractive!

Alan Bain's recording runs to 37 minutes, Tommy Couper's to 45. I'm looking forward to hearing more of both players.

Alex Monaghan

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