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SKYEDANCE - "Way Out to Hope Street" - Culburnie Records CUL111D

Skyedance are Alasdair Fraser, Eric Rigler, Chris Norman, Paul Machlis, Mick Linden and Peter Maund: in fact, much the same bunch of everyday world-class musicians who appeared on Alasdair Fraser's award-winning album "Dawn Dance" and who have been performing together ever since. "Way Out to Hope Street" presents an hour-long sample of what concert audiences have been enjoying for the past year or so: new music penned by the band in a traditional idiom (Scottish, Irish, or North American) and performed by the most star-studded sextet since The Bothy Band.

So what's it like? Innovative, varied, polished, and exciting. There are weak points, like the opening of the "Skyedance Reels" set which simply doesn't work for me on smallpipes, but on an experimental album that's not surprising. And this is an experimental recording: all new tunes (almost), imaginative arrangements, and plenty of contrast. The instrumental line-up includes fiddle, flute, keyboards, electric bass, tambourine and three breeds of bagpipe. (Don't worry - they're not all played at once!) The tunes are in the traditional forms of reel, jig, march, strathspey, slow air ... but the melodies and accompaniment are a blend of folk, jazz, blues and several older traditions. The bottom line is, it works and it works well.

As an appetiser, I'd recommend Chris Norman's excellent reel "Stoney Run" followed by Alasdair Fraser's "Tathaich Nam Fonn" in praise of Skye. If that doesn't hook you, try the title track and Eric Rigler's quirky "Walking the Plank", already a firm favourite with pipe bands. Then you'll be ready for the heavy stuff - eight minutes of Paul Machlis' eerie "Dark Jewel" medley, and Fraser's moving "Bannockburn" which brings the album to a close. After that, you'll want to listen to the whole thing all over again.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 24 of The Living Tradition magazine.