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ROD PAUL - "Birlinn" - Greentrax CDTRAX179

There's a habit that I'll have to get shot of, and that is forming impressions of albums from the sleeve notes prior to playing the said music. I'm not alone - everybody does it, particularly when visiting other person's houses for the first time and rummaging through their music collections. And reviewers suffer more than most from this unfortunate affliction. You see, the danger is that you either have your hopes built up only to have them dashed when you hear the music or conversely some super albums don't even get played because of the dismal standard of the packaging.

This selection of tunes seemed on the face of it to have most of my favourite instrumental ingredients - guitars, pipes, mandolins, fiddles and keyboards (though I'm not often seen crossing the street to hear banjos, bodhrans and - a radiator!).

Oh I can't fault the enthusiasm with which the instruments are played - all very clever stuff. Nice enough tunes and it is really well produced. But the total effect is limp and unexciting and less than the sum of the parts. Folk music for elevators.

Rod Paul is obviously a very talented multi-instrumentalist and is an accomplished tunesmith without doubt. But sadly my toes refused to tap, and volume adjustments merely altered the quantity and had no effect on the quality. Through ten of the eleven tracks I was basically unmoved. Some tunes would benefit from having the programmed drums and keyboards removed while the electric guitar which weaves in and out of The Comrie Jigs sounds like an experimental afterthought which didn't work but was accidentally left in the final mix - or is perhaps the product of a wager that has backfired.

The eleventh track - which demonstrates where Paul's talents really lie - is the only traditional tune and is handled expertly. It is also the only occasion where Rod Paul lets rip and allows us to hear him turn out a real stomper. And all achieved without electronic trickery-dickery. The down side of this wonderful finale is that this is the one tune which Rod Paul would not be able to reproduce live as it is the only occasion where he plays all the instruments.

Grem Devlin  

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This album was reviewed in Issue 35 of The Living Tradition magazine.