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Ossian - The Carrying Stream
OSSIAN - "The Carrying Stream" - Greentrax CDTRAX127

A new album, the seventh in a career spanning, albeit intermittently, some twenty-one years, and the first for almost eleven years, comes from a new, reformed, line-up which nonetheless maintains the familiar combination of instruments that served Ossian so well in the past. Iain MacInnes on pipes, and fiddler Stuart Morison (both formerly with the Tannahill Weavers), join Ossian founder members William Jackson and Billy Ross, (on Scottish harp and guitar respectively), to successfully recreate that essential, distinctive, Ossian sound.

The style is immediately familiar on the opening song "Fisherrow", which runs effortlessly into a tune, surprisingly, from the Canadian piping scene, "Noose and the Gillies", and with this pairing they set the seal on the album. There is a collection of terrific tunes, first rate jigs and reels, from both traditional and contemporary sources, which are blended with songs in English, Scots, and Gaelic. The return of Billy Ross to the band gives the benefit of those superbly mellifluous vocals which characterised much of the band's early work, with the Gaelic love song "Mo Chailin Dileas Donn" being an absolute classic, as is "Maighdeanan Na h-Airidh". Ossian at their very, very best - and as a bonus, the sleeve notes give translations of both sets of lyrics.

Instrumentally the band is predictably strong and the musicianship is of high order. Morison's fiddle, often understated, is superb throughout, Jackson's harping even better than I remember, and there is pure delight from the playing of Iain MacInnes on Scottish smallpipes, which manages to successfully combine strength and sensitivity. There is fine playing on all the tune sets, which include "Pipe Major Joe Wilson", a fine version of "Mrs Webster" (a reel adapted from Kerr's Merry Melodies), and there is a super opening on whistle for "The Working Man" - although I prefer the song with a bit more hard edge to it than this treatment gives. However, I cannot fault "The Flower of France and England", an excellent interpretation of a traditional song put to this tune by Archie Fisher. But it is really on the instrumentals, particularly the slow ones, where Ossian excel. There is the gentle, evocative combination of "Logan Water" with "Pennan Den", whilst elsewhere "Port Lennox" washes over you like a soothing balm, it's only fault being that it lasts a mere three and a half minutes - thank God for the CD player's repeat function!

Overall this is a very fine album indeed, and very enjoyable, signalling the welcome return of Ossian's quintessentially Scottish sound, and promising much for the future, not least if the collaboration with previous band members hinted at in the press release is explored.

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 25 of The Living Tradition magazine.