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BLAIR DOUGLAS - Angels From The Ashes Ridge Records 029

Douglas's last release was the acclaimed 'A Summer In Skye,' 8 years ago. He's back with over 70 minutes of masterly original compositions that seem to effortlessly embrace the Scottish, Breton and Cajun traditions. This music genuinely feels timeless (and sometimes evokes a slightly nostalgic/retro feel) and will doubtless be played again and again in years to come. The mix, given the sheer range of instruments involved, is spot on; nothing dominates. The roll call of musicians impresses too - all drawn from Scots, jazz and Cajun backgrounds. I love the way the contemporary instrumentation works with the traditional. Drums and electric guitars sit extremely well in the mix.

The tunes, richly lyrical and instantly memorable, are steeped in Scottish & Gaelic tradition. There are strong nuances of French Acadian music (with its lively 'country' feel), and a powerful Gallic flavour infuses some of the tunes, especially 'Western Soul' & 'An Gaidheal Uasal'. Douglas's accordion and piano/keyboard playing excel throughout. 'Night Falls' seems to me to be the definitive slice of Celtic chill, whilst tunes like 'Western Soul' capture all the feeling and pace of striding out on a carefree, clear day.

Some tunes are profoundly moving: 'Angels From The Ashes' (Weatherby's cello introduction is beautiful), is a tribute to lives lost in the tragedy of 9/11; it also, according to Douglas, draws a line under a particularly difficult time in his life. It's a tune whose heart seems to beat proudly, especially when pipes & drums come to the fore. The remarkable 'Sonamarg', with the spoken words of Psalm 50, and Ross Hamilton's superb bass accompanying Douglas's emotive piano playing, represents a 'flame of hope' for missing student Alison MacDonald.

Douglas is highly regarded for his skill in composing airs, waltzes, reels and he really delivers here (he composed all but one tune). They're full of life, lyricism and touches of humour - take for example 'Storming The Ceilidh'/'Waltzing The Last Piper Home'. There's just one track that seems to 'row against the flow' of the album, and that's 'Mr Morrison' - I feel its jazz/swing ambience doesn't sit so well with the remaining 14 tracks. The album takes on decidedly Cajun feel towards the end, with rousing accordion/fiddle-led tunes such as 'Le Stomp De Ceitidh' and an evocative French vocal on 'La Fleur De Bayou Noir'.

Douglas handles his Scottish tradition with deep understanding, respect and feeling.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.