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ROY HENDRIE & HIS SCOTTISH DANCE BAND "Scottish Dances Vol II" Highlander Music HRMCD511
JSD BAND "JSD Band" Eclipse Records ECCD 1
HOWIE MACDONALD "Way 2 Keilidh" HMDYCD
THE SCOTTISH FIDDLE ORCHESTRA "The Fiddler's Dream"
REL Records RECD 534

If one of the signs that a tradition is truly 'living' is that it is open to various interpretations which are all equally valid, then this handful of CDs show that our tradition is vibrant indeed, coming at it as they do from quite different approaches.

Roy Hendrie's band is a splendid example of a Scottish Country Dance band, with plenty of drive and swing and a rhythm you could calibrate a metronome to. There are those who disparage the 'strict tempo' approach, but it is the appropriate style for this specific type of dancing. The fact that this is Volume 11 (yes eleven, not Roman two) of the impressive Highlander series is an eloquent enough testimony to the demand for this music and this selection, recorded in the Gartferry in Ayr is as good as it gets.

Way back in 1972, a group of young lads formed a group, named it after their initials and got on with making records. No-one told them this was meant to be a serious business, so they made their recordings sound like they were having one hell of a good time. Thus, the JSD Band's eponymous 'black' album took us through a rip-roaring set of songs and tunes with one of the highest feel-good factors ever. Now re-released, with an additional four tracks, this has kept its vibrancy over the years. I'm personally glad to have this re-issue, as my vinyl copy is worn out!

Howie MacDonald is one of the innovative interpreters of the Nova Scotia / Cape Breton styles, joined here by, among others, J P Cormier and Gordie Sampson. Once you get used to the quirky introductory tracks and the "let's have a ceilidh" comments which are interspersed throughout, you soon realise the quality of the music, both traditional and contemporary, which makes this scene one of the most vibrant on the planet. Fiddle and guitars predominate and again there's this feeling that the recording of this was a lot of fun.

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, by its very nature, has to take a much more formalised approach to its music, but that is no criticism. Here we have "twenty- one tracks for the twenty-first Century" under conductor John Mason and assistant Andrew McGarva, giving a well-balanced programme of music equally suited to dancing or just listening. Ensemble playing often runs the risk of a degree of stodginess, but this is light and sensitive throughout.

So, a very mixed bag indeed, but a sure sign that the tradition is in good hands.

Gordon Potter

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This album was reviewed in Issue 39 of The Living Tradition magazine.