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THE GHILLIES - "The Nineties Collection 2" - Greentrax CDTRAX5006

This is the second recording of tunes from the TMSA collection of modern Scottish compositions in the traditional idiom. See LT15 for my review of Volume 1. In case you don't have LT15 handy, I can tell you it was good. This one is also good, but not quite up to the standards of the first volume. The reasons for this are clear: the first volume included many of the best tunes, and featured a host of musicians playing one or two tracks each, whereas this recording has been made by the specially-formed quintet The Ghillies with no guests and with an impoverished selection of tunes to choose from.

The Ghillies are a fine bunch, excellent musicians all, but five people simply can't do the work of the sixteen on the first album. There is much less variety here, and a certain sameness throughout the album which goes against the malt whisky sponsorship. What we have here is a further distillation of the excellent Volume 1 product: some malt whiskies are distilled an extra time, but as far as I know the sponsors United Distillers don't have a triple-distilled malt on their books. (Talisker used to be, but not since the 1920s.)

Despite the blandness, this is still a quality product. Freeland Barbour's bouncy dance-band accordion style dominates most tracks, sparring with Ian Hardie's border fiddle. The Lowland spirit is occasionally enhanced by the pipes of Duncan MacGillivray, producing two of the best tracks on the album: the opening set of hornpipes, and the "Trees of North Uist" set. Other highlights include Ian Hardie's slow air "Creag an Righ", a monster set ending with "Maggie's Reel", and the final track which combines three excellent tunes.

There's a lot to recommend this recording: fine tunes, a tight sound, some of the best Scottish musicians, and close to an hour of music. The pipes have a rather "distant" sound on some tracks, but otherwise the recording is impeccable. It's not as exciting as Volume 1, but it's a lot better than "Police Academy 2"!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.