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ALY BAIN & PHIL CUNNINGHAM "The Pearl" Whirlie Records - WhirlieCD3

The first thing which struck me about this CD was the amount of input from Phil Cunningham. Not only does Phil play five of the six instruments featured, he also produced the album and composed almost half the music on it! Moreover, it's the accordion which comes across most strongly when you listen to the album. If you buy this mainly for the fiddling of Aly Bain, you may be disappointed!

If, on the other hand, you just want to listen to two superb musicians doing their stuff with some wonderful tunes, and (like Pete Heywood) you don't mind a large helping of accordion, then this album is for you. The Bain/Cunningham partnership has become famous in real and imaginary village halls, and an album was long overdue. The range of tunes on this CD reflects the incredible range of styles which the duo has mastered: Shetland, Scottish, American and Scandinavian fiddling; Celtic, continental and ceilidh band accordion; and a stunning Cajun box 'n' fiddle medley.

In a radio interview, Phil Cunningham said that "The Pearl" was largely a collection of the tunes he and Aly were most often asked to play. He also said that the lack of blistering pace on the album was indicative of a more "laid-back" approach to playing music. Six of the twelve tracks are waltzes or slow airs, and only one track contains more than on reel, so this is definitely a listening album rather than a get-up-and-dance job. The album certainly shows off the technique and interpretation of both musicians, and confirms their position as the best in the country.

What about the tunes? Well, there are several old favourites such as "The Barrowburn Reel", "The Music of Spey" and the title track, all given imaginative treatments. There are also several excellent new tunes: "The Jig Runrig", "La Valse des Petites Filles", and "Quendale Bay" stand out for me as well worth learning. In between is a host of less well-known traditional and contemporary tunes from Shetland, Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton, all of them "good tunes well played".

My favourite track? It has to be the Cajun "Devant ta Port / Mamou Two-Step", a poignant waltz followed by a jaunty swagger, both tunes ideally suited to the fiddle/accordion combination. Aly and Phil weave around each other here, pushing the tunes to their limits but never putting a finger wrong. Brilliant stuff.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 9 of The Living Tradition magazine.