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LIZ DOHERTY & FIDDLESTICKS Racket in the Rectory
Foot Stompin' Records CDFSR 1704

Take fourteen young fiddlers from University College Cork, teach them a whole load of tunes they've never heard before (mainly from Scotland and Cape Breton), buy them a few pints and put them in a recording studio, and this is what you get. The material is drawn from the best of traditional and contemporary fiddle tunes, the quantity is more than adequate (56 mins), and the quality is astonishingly high.

Liz Doherty has been teaching Scottish and Canadian fiddle styles at UCC for about six years. Her excellent solo album came out on the FSR label in 1999, and she's done a great job putting Fiddlesticks together. Their sound is generally very tight, with none of the sloppiness associated with fiddlers' rallies. The standard of playing is also remarkable for such young players: they swap confidently between Irish, Scots, Acadian and Scandinavian traditions. A little more harmonising wouldn't have gone amiss, and possibly even a wind instrument or two - an hour of unalloyed massed fiddle music is hard to take, even when it's as good as this - but you can always turn it off before the end.

The tunes on 'Racket in the Rectory' have been carefully chosen to give a wide range of styles and tempos. In 14 tracks there's only one set of Irish reels: three sets of strathspeys and reels come from the Scottish tradition as preserved in Cape Breton, there are three sets of Shetland tunes, three more sets of Scottish tunes, a modern Finnish composition, and the rest are from various North American traditions.

All are excellent examples of traditional music (old and new): there's a lovely set of Yell jigs, a spine-tingling rendition of "The Unst Bridal March", and spirited romps through John McCusker's "Frank's Reel" and Jerry Holland's "Iggy and Squiggy". For a taster, try the first four tracks: all mini classics, spanning five different fiddle traditions.

There are a few points where the spontaneity of the music either isn't quite there or is hampered by the size of the group. "Reel de la Main Blanche" doesn't have the same zing as other versions I've heard, and Ross' "Reel No.4" lacks the drive of Alasdair Fraser's rendition from which it was learnt. The lovely slow minuet "Marni Swanson" is just slightly off, and the classic Shetland reel "Wullafjord" has somehow lost all its syncopation. Comparisons are onerous, though: the achievements of Liz Doherty and Fiddlesticks on this recording are prodigious indeed, and in a year or two these young fiddlers will probably be playing solo with the best of them.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 39 of The Living Tradition magazine.