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SAVOURNA STEVENSON "Tusitala, Teller of Tales" Eclectic CD - ECL CD 9412

Savourna Stevenson should be no stranger to folk fans, being one of Scotland's most innovative harp players. In recent years she has been carving out a niche for herself composing original music for TV documentaries, witness the success of "Tweed Journey". This new album was composed for the BBC production Stevenson's Travels recounting the life of writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson spent part of his life in various parts of Scotland and the rest travelling in France, USA, Hawaii, and the Pacific, so there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate these exotic influences into the music. Savourna is joined by a host of musicians from the Scottish jazz and folk scenes including Aly Bain, Fred Morrison, Anne Wood and Mike Travis so we know that innovative music will be the order of the day.

The compositions can be roughly organised into two groups, those that musically depict Stevenson's novels such as Jekyll and Hyde, Silverado Squatters and the Kidnapped Reel, and those which represent some of his travel destinations such as Across the Plains, Island Seas and Molikai. There is a strong Polynesian feel to the whole album with the sound of marimbas resounding over the pibrochish pipes of Fred Morrison on the title track "Tusitala" and a marimba and sax combination on "Treasure Island". I've never particularly been a fan of the tortured sax sound but the change of pace on "Long John Silver" combined with snatches of "hoorah and up she rises" on sax gives the piece a superb lift. Personal favourites of mine were the beautiful melody of "Road of the Lonely Hearts" with fine fiddle playing from Anna - Wendy Stevenson and Modestine which features musette style accordion. It was interesting to note the use to which Savourna puts the three fiddle players featured on the album. Aly Bain supplies many of the Scottish traditional touches, though he does stray into bluegrass territory on the Silverado Squatters, Anne Wood is busy improvising on the jazzy material and Anna Wendy adds a classical flavour. Paraguayan harp music has not gone unnoticed by Savourna and she incorporates some typically chromatic sounding Latin harp into the waltz Mexican Monterey. I'll confess I was tempted to shout "Ole" after the ending.

My only criticism of releasing music composed for TV programmes is that the compositions tend to sound like aural wallpaper without any pictures to accompany them. This album, although well played and featuring many interesting moments falls into the same trap. If you saw the TV programme or are a Savourna Stevenson completist then this might be the recording for you.

Steve Davidson

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This album was reviewed in Issue 12 of The Living Tradition magazine.