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SMALLTALK - "Smalltalk" - Greentrax CDTRAX079

In the hands of Iain MacInnes, the Scottish small pipes (hence Smalltalk) produce a vast range of different tones and moods. Iain has not enjoyed the same recognition as Hamish Moore and Dougie Pincock, mainly because of his commitments to broadcasting traditional music, but this album should go a long way towards establishing him as one of our very best on the small pipes. From the first notes of "Colonel Fraser" to the last notes of "The Bee in the Knickers", Iain's pipes drive the album along.

Billy Ross is well known from his Ossian days, and his fine voice contributes three Gaelic songs and two Scots ones. The Gaelic songs are all of the sad and suicidal type, beautifully sung with a gentle guitar accompaniment complimented by poignant whistling from Iain and mournful fiddling from Stuart. The switch from the miserable "Cumha Coire A'Cheathaich" to the wry "Jock Hawk" is inspired, as is the choice of the slip-jig "New Claret" to go with the song. The ballad "Rosie Anderson" presents a true and tragic story from two centuries ago, and Smalltalk's treatment is both sensitive and moving.

Stuart Morison's fiddle comes to the fore in "Over the Sea to Nova Scotia", a graceful slow air in triple time, and in the set of Quebecois tunes pinched from La Bottine Souriante, reflecting Stuart's transatlantic travels. If you listen carefully, the fiddle is always there in the background, underpinning the pipes or weaving a ground for Billy's voice.

It is rare indeed to hear three such sensitive musicians together. The delicate touch which Smalltalk command is evocative of an earlier age, when Gaelic and Scots shared a common culture, and when pipes and fiddle sat comfortably together. Listening to this recording, it's easy to imagine yourself snug in some Perthshire hostelry at the beginning of the last century enjoying the relaxed playing of visiting master musicians: no rush, no loud noises, no electronics. This pure and timeless sound is brought to you by the digital wizardry of Greentrax!

There's so much good stuff on this CD which deserves a mention - the lovely interpretation of "The Heights of Cassino", the concentration on Scottish material, the whistle doubling, the haunting final track, the humour in the tunes and the notes, the question of how all these melodies fit on the pipes - but you'll have to discover most of it for yourselves. I'm still finding fresh delights.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 13 of The Living Tradition magazine.