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90's Collection - Greentrax CDTRAX 5004

This recording is one of the products of a TMSA competition for new Scottish instrumental compositions. There's a companion book from Canongate Books in Edinburgh which contains over 200 tunes, of which 46 are on this CD. The selection was made by Ian Hardie, and to my mind shows a bias towards the Accordion & Fiddle tradition - not surprising, given the people involved, and bias is probably inevitable. The sixteen tracks include four piping sets and some slow airs, but most of the album is ceilidh/country dance music. The sixteen musicians include four pipers, but again come mainly from the dance-band tradition: plenty of big names - Bain, Cunningham, Barbour, Thoumire, Sutherland, etc.

With over an hour of music, there's something here for every taste, from Shand to Shooglenifty. That's presumably why United Distillers decided to sponsor the project, despite a marked absence of references to whisky in the tune titles. Actually, if you listen closely, there are definite similarities between some of the tracks and UD's half dozen Classic Malts.

Track 9, for instance, a set of three reels played by Simon Thoumire and Phil Cunningham, strongly resembles Talisker. There's a clear West Coast flavour, helped by Fergie MacDonald's composition, and a certain pepperiness in the box-playing. The other West Coast malt, Oban, is more like the pipe waltz and hornpipes of track 15: several competing flavours, with some unconventional influences in all three tunes, but producing an intriguing and harmonious whole.

The slow air "The Setting Sun" from Ian Hardie's pen is a little gem: unpretentious, beautifully crafted, and perfectly executed by Messrs Bain and Cunningham. It's definitely a Glenkinchie among tunes: darkly smouldering, and surprisingly good for a Lowlander!

Now we come to my favourites, two very different characters but both top of their class. Track 3 is a haughty, austere piping track which makes few concessions to the kitchen pipers: the march, strathspey and jig are all by MacDonalds, and are played by Allan MacDonald in classic fashion. This one leaves the mouth dry and thirsting for more, just like the best Cragganmore. The five tunes on track 10 are not so dry, but exhibit a depth and complexity which is surprising in view of the relative youth of the composers. "The Point Road" is well known from Shooglenifty's debut album, and the other four jigs soon feel familiar. There is a warmth and richness here, too, which all adds up to the greatness of a Lagavulin. (Some say Lagavulin is best at comparatively young ages).

There are a couple of Dalwhinnies on this recording, workmanlike tunes with a certain appeal but nothing outstanding, but most of the tracks are full of character and will stand repeated listening with a bottle in hand. In fact, the character of the whole album is warm and relaxed no clinical studio sound, but the fireside atmosphere associated with good friends, good music ... and good whisky.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 15 of The Living Tradition magazine.