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TONY McMANUS - "Pourquoi Quebec" - Greentrax CDTRAX151

It's very rare to find an album that you just know is going to be a classic from the first time you hear it. I'm sure, however, in ten years time or so when we are looking back upon the influential albums from the late millennium "Pourquoi Quebec" by Tony McManus will feature highly. That much maligned instrument the Celtic guitar, more often than not reduced to being a mere backing tool for the frontline instruments such as fiddle, accordion, and pipes is brought to the fore here in all its majesty, and goodness how it shines.

Tony's second recording for the Edinburgh based Greentrax label belies just how busy he is. His solo legacy may only cover two discs but he is one of Scotland's most highly sought after session musician, appearing with amongst others, Kate Rusby and William Jackson's "Inchcolm" plus "Celtic Experience" although rumours he is to front Wet Wet Wet's next single are a bit premature.

So, what can you expect to hear upon listening to this compact disc? Well here are the facts. "Pourquoi Quebec" is a totally instrumental album of guitar music accompanied in places by fretless bass, piano, and feet! It was recorded in Canada towards the end of 1997, and mastered in Edinburgh. Now for the analysis. On this album Tony casts more than just a glancing eye back to releases by such diverse artistes as Pierre Bensusan, and Isaac Guillory, however, his music remains fresh and original. To open the album we offered a strathspey learned from the singing of Mairi McInnes, and the set closes with two reels of breathtaking speed and dexterity. Finely measured playing on "A Tune for Frankie" set shows not only that Tony has a wonderful sense of interpretation, but also a rich affinity with the music's traditions.

Despite being an album that features tunes from as far afield as Macedonia, this recording never falls into that most modern of clichés 'World Music'. What we have here is a Scottish adaptation of tunes from around the Celtic globe. Closing this disc is the beautiful and haunting "Annan Waters" which leaves the listener wishing that the album would play forever ... still at least one can play it again. In "Pourquoi Quebec" Tony has assembled an album of grace and beauty rarely seen for this instrument.

Pourquoi Quebec? ... because it's there.

Keith Witham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 27 of The Living Tradition magazine.