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ALY BAIN "The First Album" WhirlieCD1

This is a long-overdue re-release of Aly Bain's first solo album, originally produced by Whirlie Records as a cassette and LP in 1984. My own copy of the LP has been almost worn away, so I am delighted to have the CD version! The necessary remastering and other technical jiggery-pokery has not lost any of the energy and sparkle of the original analogue recording, so there will be hordes of people replacing their old vinyl with this brand-new CD.

Aly is acknowledged as the finest traditional fiddler of his generation, able to turn his elbow to Scottish, Irish, American and European traditional music, and unsurpassed as an exponent of the Shetland fiddling tradition. This album shows Aly at his best and most exciting, and it is therefore not surprising that it is one of the classic folk recordings of the last decade. The album includes music from a wide range of traditions both Celtic and American but rightly emphasises the Shetland tradition with compositions by Tom Anderson and Ronald Cooper, not to mention that famous Shetlander Pat Shuldham Shaw, as well as many older melodies. The arrangements are also Shetland in character, with Violet Tulloch on piano (as on "Lonely Bird") and Peerie Willie Johnson on guitar, and some great string-bass work by May Gair.

As Aly points out in the notes, most of the tunes here were not well-known at the time of recording: what he fails to say is that almost all of them are now favourite session tunes on three continents, and that this is largely because of the impact of this album! The versions of "Waiting for the Federals" and "The Hangman's Reel", for instance, are absolute classics of American-style fiddling and interested an enormous number of people in transatlantic music. Likewise, "Margaret's Waltz" became a classic overnight, despite being written by an Englishman: Aly's rendition makes one Irish fiddler I know go weak at the knees, and it reduced my bass-player to tears!

What more can I say? Here you have forty-two minutes of the finest fiddle-playing money can buy: that very rare combination of tradition, technical brilliance and true feeling for the music. This would definitely be one of my desert-island discs!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 4 of The Living Tradition magazine.