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ANAO ATAO "Esoteric Stones" Kesson KESCD 001

This is the first Cornish CD I've come across, and it was a very pleasant surprise. I was initially put off by the cover, which seems to promise eerie celtic synthesisers and Dark Ages theme tunes, but there was very little of that in the music. The musicians point out that they have not attempted to preserve a historical Cornish sound, and this is apparent from the very first track where the sound ranges from classical mandolin to salsa.

There is a heavy Breton influence in the album, not surprisingly. Brittany is Cornwall's closest celtic neighbour, and Anao Atao is a duo with one Cornish half and one Breton half. Track 2 is a quite traditional rendition of two lively Breton Larides, complete with bombardes. The third track is Irish in inspiration, but features whistle playing which is not quite up to Irish standards, although the multi-instrumental musicianship is generally excellent on other tracks.

The album seems to come in three parts. The three tracks mentioned constitute a lively, pan-celtic-plus first part. The distinctively Cornish elements are next, with four tracks of what one might expect from Cornwall: tasteful, gentle melodies and some jaunty dance tunes in the same vein as the infamous Helston Furry Dance. The third part is more reflective, with a lovely strings arrangement of 18th century tunes followed by a very soothing and atmospheric version of two more Breton tunes. A couple of new compositions, both very pleasant, complete the section.

The final track is a reprise of many of the themes and styles from earlier tracks. As well as being a nice idea for rounding off the album, and providing a good idea of the overall range for anyone not wishing to listen to the whole 50-odd minutes, this track works very well in its own right. The composition and arrangement skills of Anao Atao are amply illustrated on this track and, if you like this one, you'll like the whole thing.

As I said, this CD was a very pleasant surprise. I put it on whenever friends come round, and they generally like it a lot. It has a very wide appeal without being shallow: it doesn't seem to pall with repeated listening, either.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 8 of The Living Tradition magazine.