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WILLIAM JACKSON "A Scottish Island" Mill Records MRCD011
"The Ancient Harp of Scotland" Mill Records MRCD010

A sensitive and evocative lyricist, his tunes are framed along traditional lines and have catchy accessible refrains. This is an un-reconstructed folk singer; what Cyril Tawney, with whom comparisons could be drawn, would call "old-style". Hard to believe this is his first recording but such it is and yet only "Sail Away" is included of the songs popularised by Jim Mageean and Johnny Collins in the late 70s/early 80s. This was the time when Rod, having dabbled with Jazz saxophone after leaving the sea, investigated Dylan/MacColl/Guthrie, was inspired by Stan Hugill's books and after playing with the Captain Swing collective, chose to immerse himself in the Folk Scene proper. He's been in a rich vein of form since and this album is as warm and open as the man himself. Nothing ground-breaking you understand, but with a guideless delivery and depth of feeling that provides much to admire.

New and old music from Ossian's harpist, and there's well over 50 minutes on each CD. "A Scottish Island" is two suites of newly-composed Celtic music for traditional and classical ensembles, and "The Ancient Harp" is a true solo recording of traditional tunes. Both are severely lacking in sleeve notes.

William Jackson has written several suites of new music in the traditional idiom, using excellent traditional musicians and classical players to very good effect, and the two suites on "A Scottish Island" are both fine examples. The grander of the two, from which this album takes its title, is a powerful and absorbing work full of all the ingredients of Western Isles music: pipes, fiddle, Gaelic, and the sound of the natural elements of wind and water. The tradition is handled with respect and sensitivity, and the result is both original and inspiring. The piping and singing of Iain and Mairi MacInnes stand out especially.

The second suite, "A Journey by Sea", is much gentler and in many ways reminiscent of the Iona suite on Ossian's "Dove Across the Water" album. I found it less coherent and not as enjoyable as its grander neighbour, and in places it seemed to lose its direction a little (an easy enough mistake to make in the Minches).

On "The Ancient Harp of Scotland", William Jackson shows off his multi-instrumental skills and produces a wide-ranging selection of traditional music arranged for the Scottish clarsach. In fact, the range seems to extend beyond Scotland, with two or three pieces which I thought were English and Welsh. The vast majority of the material is quintessentially Scottish, though, from Highlands and Lowlands, East and West coasts.

The slow airs are particularly beautiful, with the best versions I've heard of "Lude's Supper" and "Rory Dall's Sister's Lament" amongst others. There's nothing with real bite to it, but it's all very pleasant, nicely arranged and very well played apart from some strange whistling on track four!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 31 of The Living Tradition magazine.