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PAULINE CATO & TOM McCONVILLE "The Surprise" Tomcat Music TCCD02

Complaint number one: giving this CD that name is being a little creative with the truth. Because of course it comes as no "surprise" that this is a terrific collection of songs and tunes played and recorded with energy, wit and conviction not just by Pauline and Tom, but also by a-little-bit-more-than-just-an-engineer Chris Newman. In fact, "The Surprise" is one of the tunes on the album, by piper Billy Pigg. James Scott-Skinner is also well represented, as is Tom himself.

There is an abrupt change of mood with intensity of another kind on Kieran Halpin's "Azalea" - treated both to an almost chamber quartet-like arrangement and some exquisite harmony vocals from Maggie Boyle. But mostly it is the tunes that are king - a polka, jigs, reels, marches and waltzes all jostle for our attention.

And where song and tunes come together we have magic. Tom's singing of "Catgut Jim The Fiddler" is quite haunting. Catgut Jim was the mid-nineteenth century entertainer who wrote the song, which Tom has set to a tune, and between them, Pauline, Tom and Chris weave many of the tunes he sings about - such as "Miss MacLeod's Reel" and "Music In The Glen" into the arrangement.

Complaint number two: there is no complaint number two. An excellent album.

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 34 of The Living Tradition magazine.