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BRIAN McNEILL "To Answer the Peacock" Greentrax CDTRAX170

It's always good to see someone doing what he does best, and this CD shows that what Brian McNeill does best is play the fiddle. Brian's days with Battlefield Band and Clan Alba established him as one of the finest fiddlers around, but his half dozen solo albums concentrated on his singing and multi-instrumental talents. This recording redresses the balance, with thirteen tracks (52 mins) of fiddle music.

And can he play! Brian McNeill turns his elbow to Scottish, Irish and American reels, a beautiful Neil Gow slow air, a set of gypsy improvisations around "Charlie is my Darling", another beautiful air by Dick Gaughan, and a dozen and a half of his own compositions. The fiddle takes the lead throughout, with Brian accompanying himself on keyboards, concertina and fretted things. There's a little help from guitarist Jed Grimes, but otherwise this is a one-man operation from start to finish.

Highlights? The poignant strathspey of the title track, the "Fallen Angel" set of four driving McNeill tunes with a stylish change from jig to reel, the "Colrhanna" set of a strangely familiar march and three new reels, and in fact most of the rest of the CD.

But not track fourteen. Track fourteen is a 17-minute reading of the first chapter of Brian's second novel, same title as the CD. And can he write! If you thought the sleeve notes were good, check this out: blood, sweat and tears from a bad day's busking in Brittany, boosting the playtime to seventy minutes. If that's not enough, buy the book.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 33 of The Living Tradition magazine.