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CHANTAN - "Primary Colours" - Culburnie Records CUL108D

As one of the younger labels on the traditional music scene, Culburnie has earned a reputation for its mainly fiddle-based recordings centred round Alasdair Fraser and his bow-some pals.

Well, there's not a fiddle in hearing distance on this new release. The accent is very much on the voice, for in Chantan we have a trio of very well-known individual singers. Step up, in alphabetical order, Elspeth Cowie of Seannachie fame; Corrina Hewat also of Seannachie and now Bachue Cafe; and Christine Kydd - voices tuned while you wait.

There's fine instrumental accompaniment from Corinna's harp and Christine's guitar on a few of the tracks but this is very much a singers' album, with crystal-clear diction and acappella harmonies which sneak up when you're expecting the obvious.

The choice of songs is eclectic. There's Trad Inc with "Gloomy Winter's Noo Awa'", written by either Robert Tannahill or Michael Nyman depending on your age group and cinema tastes, and a Burns homage including "The Slave's Lament" (PG) and two from his X-rated Merry Muses, with "John Anderson My Jo" being known to the girls as Mrs Anderson's Blues. Pre-minstrel tension, perhaps. There's also a rather splendid setting of "The Braes of Killiecrankie" - credited to Burns, which might bring in letters of protest from the James Hogg Fan Club - to the tune of "The Lea-Rig" which works well and at 4 mins 59 secs lasts a wee bit longer than the actual battle.

But don't think it's all trad. In fact, even the trad isn't all trad for there's folk, blues and jazz influences paying their respects throughout. There's a fun kids' ditty (chorus: Tiddley-I-ti Boogy-woogy-woogy), a slash-your-wrists wedding warning, and when's the last time you heard a Jimmy Van Heusen song done acappella? Well, "Darn that Dream", by the same man who wrote "All the Way" and "Swingin' on a Star" conjures up a smoky nightclub to perfection. Whether solo or in harmony the voices are first- rate and repeated hearings pay dividends.

The sleeve describes Chantan as the tradition's Upstart Sisters of the Twentieth Century. They'll certainly be a tough act to follow. Recommended.

Alan Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 20 of The Living Tradition magazine.