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DEAF SHEPHERD - "Synergy" - Greentrax CDTRAX143

If musical synergy exists, then no better band could demonstrate its meaning than traditional, Scottish group, Deaf Shepherd. As the title implies, this pooling of individual musicians to create a greater collective sound, allows the band not only to retain, but also recharge their pastoral approach in this second album - "Synergy".

The opening Jean Carignan set is a winner. With John Morran's bright chordal introduction, and an enticing bit of ad libbing from Rory Campbell on low whistle, the musical tension builds, the tune starts and Deaf Shepherd are off. The clean, dynamic changes from reels to jig and back to reels, involves vigorous fiddling from Marianne Curran and Clare McLaughlin, and great strength and lead from Rory Campbell, this time on Highland pipes.

The rest of the album proceeds with the same velocity, and virtuosity, propelled by the powerful bouzouki bravura of Malcolm Stitt. This is in line with John Morran's accomplished guitar work, and there's also the steady, toneful drive from guest musician Brian O hEadhra on bodhran.

Secure in their grounds, Deaf Shepherd take a confident command of the Strathspeys, and then add a bit of pizzaz as they let loose with a jazzy feel on "Wings O' A Scorrie".

But that's not to say all sentimentality is lost in the vroom, for in John Morran's stirring rendition of "Winter O' Life", Robert Burns has been remarkably complimented. Here, Malcolm's poignant guitar blends fiddle and whistle countermelodies smoothly with the vocals. And some of the other songs, like the humorous "Pawkie Paiterson" and also "Huntin' the Buntin'", John handles 'nae bother' in the Scots tongue.

Deaf Shepherd's cultivation of musical ideas on "Synergy" has been assisted by the excellent production work of Tony McManus, who also plays bodhran on the occasional track. The variety of their music, based in the Scottish tradition, ranges from old to new; from Marianne's version of "Bothan Airigh Am Braigh Rainneach", to Clare's self-penned jig, "My Friend Sharon". Another band written tune, this time, Rory's "Keys, Money, Fags" displays his amazing rhythmical skill, and is supported by pounding strings and bodhran to give it that European feel.

Yes, in Deaf Shepherd's "youghfu' prime", they are unlimited in their musical style and taste. And that goes for the classy sleeve as well - very impressive all round.

Frances Morton

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This album was reviewed in Issue 26 of The Living Tradition magazine.