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CLIAR "gun tmh" Macmeanmna, Skyecd21

MACKENZIE "Fama Clamosa" Macmeanmna, Skyecd 22

That Cliar sail through this world with a haunting albatross of a moniker over their collective shoulder - that of 'Gaelic supergroup' - should come as nothing of a surprise. The band members have Mod gongs aplenty, (if that is any indication of anything), and are amongst the best known and loved performers on the traditional music circuit (if such a thing exists). This release finds them in sparkling form, and deserving of every bit of the acclaim their previous work has brought to their door.

'gun tmh' is an over-flowing kist of all delights Gaelic and fear-taigh, the wily campaigner Art Cormack, sure knows how to catch the attention of the listener with an opening set that bursts from the speakers with gutsy, swaggering, ebullience. It's all voice and violin, an explosion in a reel factory.

To randomly select one or two of the fine silky strands that are knotted together in this recording, listen to Ingrid Henderson. This writer has written elsewhere of the myriad accompanimental talents of Ingrid Henderson, and 'gun tmh' finds her in bristling good form once again. Or there's Art's voice, rich in sweet melancholy, inspiring, telling you a story. This is Cliar's best yet and an object lesson in binding the old to the new.

MacKenzie are, essentially, a close vocal harmony group comprised of sisters Eilidh, Fiona and Gillian Mackenzie. They sing Gaelic songs old and new, with a nod toward traditional Gaelic music, and other styles. The strength at the heart of MacKenzie is song writer Eilidh MacKenzie. There are very few writers producing such a wide range of new music in Gaelic, and while there are such writers as Eilidh willing to mix and match and provide a new context for the tradition, the music has a chance of making it over the horizon of the future. A good example of this is the opening track of their latest CD 'Fama Clamosa'. This has gaelic words, apart from the title that is latin; is a declaration against persecution in religion and education, and echoes with virtually every musical tradition apart from the Hebridean.

Contemporary life, its thoughts and feelings, needs its own voice, and writers such as Eilidh MacKenzie show that there is no reason why Gaelic should not be the medium through which Gaels interpret and reflect the contemporary world. The CD does have a blend of the new and the traditional, and while for this reviewer some of the (doubtlessly polished and accomplished) close harmonies generated by the sisters MacKenzie can, at times, be an over-worked colour wash of sound, there is moving and thoughtful music here a plenty, and at their best the groups close harmonies speak the real language of our feelings in this uncertain world.

Their music is perplexing and allusive, probably with as many fans as doubters amongst those who love the Gaelic tradition. yet, 'Fama Clamosa' is at times beautiful, poignant, optimistic as though coming straight from a place where music and musicians are cherished and nurtured and for which, in return, they make songs for us all, to embellish the big and small moments of our passing lives. In that, they are steeped in the Gaelic tradition and in the reality of life in small communities. If that all sounds a little romanticised and ideal for a CD review, well, if traditional music has anything to teach us, it is in the reflections it sustains: the social and communal structures that surround its production and in its everyday value to the community it serves. Read between the lines of some new music and you can glimpse the essence of the tradition from which it stems. It is a credit to the MacKenzies that they plough their own furrow.

Its a grand project, aided here by a set of fine instrumentalists, and comes highly recommended...with a reviewer's apology for the lecture.

Peter Urpeth.

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This album was reviewed in Issue 51 of The Living Tradition magazine.