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HAMISH MOORE "Dannsa' Air An Drochaid" Stepping On The Bridge CDTRAX 073

This "solo" recording from Hamish sees him relegate his partner of the last two recordings - Dick Lee - to a mere cameo. Hamish has returned to the traditional, forsaking the avant garde, for the moment at least, and in the process produced a sparkling, skirling whirl of an album. Familiar tunes shake off a hundred years of cultural influence to be born again as wild free spirits which taunt you with their wantonness.

It wouldn't have taken a genius to figure out that if Hamish Moore was going to record an album with such hardy favourites as "Blue Bonnets", "Father John MacMillan of Barra", "Crossing the Minch" and "Stumpie", to name but a few, there would be something unusual about the arrangements. Well, the arrangements on "Dannsa' Air An Drochaid" are indeed unusual, for Hamish has crossed the atlantic to Cape Breton for his inspiration.

Hamish argues in the comprehensive notes that accompany the CD that the music in Cape Breton has remained more or less pure since its arrival, along with around 30,000 gaelic speaking Scots, in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The traditional music in Scotland, Hamish argues, has been altered by a number of cultural influences. Chief among the influences on piping has been the role of the army and the competition scene in enforcing, in Hamish's words, "technical correctness to the detriment of musicality". These cultural influences have been missing in Cape Breton while step dancing has continued. Hamish points out that the continuation of step dancing has meant that the strathspey, reel and jig are the commonest forms of music as these are the tempos for step dancing. I don't have the space to delve further into Hamish's arguments - you will have to buy the CD and read the interesting and thought-provoking essay in the sleeve booklet for that.

Cultural influences aside - what is the music like? Energetic, lively, and full and vitality, the pipes ring as Hamish careers through the tunes daring you to challenge the arrangement as anything but the most natural in the world. The shackles of strict pointing and technique are tossed aside as a looser more rhythmic style embraces the tunes. Hamish uses Border pipes and Scottish Small pipes as well as the Great Highland Bagpipe, the latter being a replica of a set made in 1785 and the lower pitch they produce lends magnificently to the whole feel of the album.

It does not take long to notice that there is another force at work on the album, and its influence is almost as strong as the pipes. That influence is Hilda Chaisson on the piano. On most of the tracks the piano weaves in and out of the pipes, stridently creating an almost competitive tension which is exhilarating to listen to. Hilda's delightful piano playing is an unexpected,and very welcome, bonus, which reaches a zenith with a tender rendition of the Burns' tune "O' A' the Airts the Wind Can Blow" as a piano solo.

Those of you already firm Hamish Moore fans, may find this a little bit more traditional than you are used to. There is still enough of the wild energy we associate with Hamish to interest you though. Those who Hamish lost with his wilder forays into the adant garde of pipe music should seek this out, as it is a genuinely musical album which raises some interesting questions about our own (Scottish) music.

Chris MacKenzie

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