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RUA - "Ao-Tea-Roa" - Greentrax CDTRAX 103

It means "The Land of the Long White Cloud"- the Maori name for Rua's native New Zealand and is their second UK album (the first, reviewed in LT issue 1, was a compilation of their first two NZ albums). This is Scottish and Irish music born of immigrant history but oddly lacking in specific reference to that history. It stretches to Lennon & McCartney, via jazzy electric guitar interludes, to Mary Chapin-Carpenter (a fine The Moon and St Christopher), and is a pleasant mix of tunes (traditional and Jimmy Young penned) and largely contemporary songs, although the highlight is the traditional, and still chilling, The College Boy.

It's a live album recorded primarily during a 1994 tour of New Zealand for the Arts Council of New Zealand. While it would be grossly unfair to label Rua as some sort of cultural demonstration band, there is a lingering air of anonymity about the performances (not helped by the sparse sleeve notes). Clearly in Scotsman Jimmy Young they have a talented piper, writer and arranger (a waltzurka is an interesting idea), and in James Wilkinson a brave man willing to radically rework an angular Eleanor Rigby, but a coherent and incisive identity has yet to emerge for the band as a whole. Perhaps a greater freedom for their native antipodean musical influences to work against Young's Scottish guiding light may spark some fascinating traditional fusions; but as it is, the impression is of a polished and studious showcase lacking in bite. Having said that, Young's flute and the powerful vocals of Denny Stanway and Wilkinson are outstanding, and the use of Northumbrian pipes, bowed bass and sundry percussion lend further texture to the excellent standard of musicianship.

Rua are worth keeping an eye on as they bring their well honed performance to Europe, and it will be interesting to see how the music develops when visiting its spiritual home. Perhaps being half a world away may bring out some ancient influences of Ao-Tea-Rua. The grass is always greener ...

Kevin Cooper
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This album was reviewed in Issue 15 of The Living Tradition magazine.