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ROB MacKILLOP "Flowers of the Forest" Greentrax CDTRAX155

When Rob MacKillop embarked upon a personal journey of discovery to trace his Celtic origins and to learn about his country he did so through music. This, his first solo album, proves without doubt that he has found the source and drunk deeply from it. Places of pilgrimage have been archives of ancient manuscripts and his mentors have included such luminaries as John Purser, acknowledged here in the informative CD booklet.

When MacKillop gives a live performance he makes the occasion a didactic experience. This say something of his relationship with the instruments themselves. They have educated him and given him a profound appreciation and love of his native music and he now desires to pass this on without compromise. MacKillop's notes, therefore, impart the correct amount of information to aid out understanding and appraisal of his abilities.

This collection opens with five pieces from the Balcarres manuscript from Fife played on the eleven course lute. Right away one is struck by how well crafted both MacKillop's playing and the recording is. These four slow airs and one waltz are beautifully defined within their own space. They enter one's space without intrusion, gracefully and lyrically. The ambience is most assuredly live. The buzz of the strings lending a visual credence to the work.

For his next choice of five tunes from the Skene manuscript MacKillop takes up the little mandour. A five course instrument from the 17th century. At once one is caught up on a lithesome breeze that carries the spirit to faerie land. MacKillop has a deftness of touch that is put to the test in "Canaries" and "I Will Not Go to My Bed Till I Suld Die". Although the swift tempo threatens to run away from him he maintains control. He is not so fortunate when he goes on to play the cittern for a medley of six tunes from the Miller/McCalman manuscript.

The cittern again provides a contrast in sound. It is more jangly and loose. The rasgueado technique here requires a faster, more fluid mastery over the fingers with MacKillop tripping very close to the edge. His slight stumble does not impair the level of performance - it enhances the liveness of this recording. The cittern becomes expressive of the five-string bluegrass banjo reminding one of how Scotland's music crossed the Atlantic only to return in different forms.

There are hints too of the blues in MacKillop's playing. He refrains from note bending but his natural empathy rests with slow airs and even tempos. This is evidenced in "Adew Dundee" from the Skene Manuscript and five ports from the Stralloch manuscript played on the ten course lute which are given so freely and faultlessly.

This collection would not be complete without the inclusion of the wire-strung 18th century guittar for which many of Burns' melodies were arranged. MacKillop employs this versatile instrument to play two reels and the longest track on the album. "Tweed Side" by James Oswald; so evocative of the tumbling Border river.

Before closing with a self-penned lament on the mandour, MacKillop plays three short and concise pieces from the Wemyss manuscript on the eleven course lute. These remind one of his careful precision and love of the music. He has not committed these tunes to memory with indifference or a lack of sensibility. His playing throughout is unassuming and unpretentious. This quality is emphasised in his final track which neither disturbs the ambience nor unsettles the historic tone of the whole.

"Lament for the Luters" illustrates how well MacKillop has learned from his sojourn. How his draught from the source has nourished his skill. Now it is time for him to travel to the next stage of the river and to compose a collection of his own.

Marshall Anderson

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This album was reviewed in Issue 32 of The Living Tradition magazine.