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ANDY M. STEWART "Man in the Moon" GLCD 1140

Fine singing and playing, superb arrangements and a varied interesting choice of material blending sparkling fresh treatments of some familiar material alongside less familiar stuff, make this the sort of album you'd wish to accompany you on to the desert island.

Seriously this is an absolute stonker of an album, that kicks off well with "The Echo Mocks the Corncake" and progressively gets better and better as it winds its way through the tracks.

To do the work justice I'd have to take it track by track and fill a couple of pages to get in all my comments on each track. I can't, so will have to condense my impressions, whilst imploring you to go out and have a listen for yourselves. Bowled over I may be to the degree that my critical faculties are be-numbed but I'd better say something more to justify my reviewers crust. The album roughly divides into a Scottish first half and an Irish second, and each part is tackled with equal skill and feeling. "The Gaberlunzie Man" is taken with just the right amount of jauntiness and it's good to hear it done at a speed that doesn't suggest there's a prize for finishing early. Humorous, an example of the richness of the Scots tongue without it ever being overdone ... I think ten out of ten for aplomb would be about right. "Listen to the People" could've provided an excellent focal point for Michael Ignatieff's recent TV excursion "A Different People" that strove to isolate those elements that informs our perceptions of ourselves as distinct and different from our Southern neighbours and is as contemporary as today's headlines. A self composition, well worth its place alongside the other gems here.

"The Errant Apprentice" demonstrates not only that Irish humour is in a class of it's own but is extremely literate. If that sounds patronising it isn't meant to, and I could illustrate what I mean by quoting at length from the song, but that would only serve to detract from the richness and surprising twists it contains. A tale about a young man whose intended ran off with a Turk, it deserves to be placed in some kind of Guiness Hall of Fame for placing "scimitar" in rhyming juxtaposition with "passionate limiter". More I won't say in case I spoil the fun.

It's interesting to hear Andy re-visit a wee bit of his back catalogue on his re-treatment of "Land O' the Leal" and redo it with a more muscular approach than of yore. Though I did miss the plaintive fiddle of Johnny Cunningham on this outing, it's a thoughtful arrangement, and with musicians of the calibre of Phil Cunningham and Gary West aboard and with an abundance of fresh arrangements (particularly noticeable on "The Lakes of Pontchartrain") the overall work never sets a foot wrong.

There is a considerable number of other highlights here which I haven't even touched upon. The word "outstanding" though overworked, has real meaning here. Outstanding plus.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 7 of The Living Tradition magazine.