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Jonny Hardie, Brian MacAlpine, Alyth McCormack, Rory Campbell - "The Captain's Collection - Captain Simon Fraser, 1773 to 1852"
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX 187

There's probably a body of empirical evidence proving that the more you try and ignore a tradition, or attempt to have it consciously ignored, the more likely you are to become confronted with it in spite of yourself. As far as these songs are concerned, the theory was that, during the post-Culloden hysteria that caused the proscription of highland dress and culture, it would be wiser to hide the Gaelic lyrics and flog these gems as tunes. Subsequently, by virtue of the fact that they are mostly superb melodies, most of the tunes are instantly recognizable as the basis of at least one if not more popular folk song. However, this is the first chance most of us will have of hearing what may have been the original settings for the tunes - with the appropriate Gaelic lyrics where appropriate. I say 'what may have been' because I know these are folk tunes and songs and thus one cannot with any certainty place their conception historically or geographically (although many learned experts make a career out of trying). I know that by dint of their eagerness to recreate the original atmosphere of the original works, the artistes have created a shortbread tin rather than a sow's ear in places, but my toe tapped throughout - although I managed to contain the temptation to grab my partner and burl her around the room.

At times Alyth McCormack's vocals grab you by the scruff and jiggle you, while unawares (especially on the penultimate song [Mo run an diugh mar an de thu]), although sadly I was spectacularly unmoved by Rory Campbell's vocal contributions - although he deserves at least a silver star for his efforts, however misplaced. The fiddle playing of Jonny Hardie is, as usual, economic and simultaneously dynamic and Brian MacAlpine's ivory tickling is certainly up to the task and Campbell's pipes are ideally suited to the faster movements. And if you are interested in the errant displaced uncles of your musical family you will love this CD.

By my calculations these tracks constitute less than 6% of the 213 texts that have been reunited with their 'original' tunes and I truly hope that there are future gems yet to be recorded. As for me I'm departing for my oatcakes and Laphroaig.

Grem Devlin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 37 of The Living Tradition magazine.