Category Archives: CD Reviews

A Spirited Elegance

Catriona  McKay –  Untitled (Glimster Records. GLIMCD 01)

Fiddlers’ Bid –  Da Farder Ben Da Welcomer ( Greentrax. CDTRAX218)

When I first heard a fragment of Catriona McKay’s playing I thought it was Derek Bell, the great, and now sadly late, Belfast harpist. There was just something about the lightness of touch and the tune briefly reminded me of something by Turlough Carolan.  Well, I was wrong on both counts. It wasn’t Bell and the tune was, ‘The Swan LK243’, composed by McKay herself. It’s here on this, her first, CD along with various Shetland and other traditional tunes plus a couple more originals.  And it is one of those totally refreshing albums that combines harp, fiddle, double bass and percussion with such elegant simplicity that the tunes cannot help but speak and stay with you.

Take the aforementioned piece, ’The Swan’. This was written about a trip from Lerwick Harbour on the sail boat from which the tune takes its name. There is an open air, cool breezes in your face feel as the harp and fiddle glide through and embellish the melody as the bass firmly anchors it all. You can almost feel the decks rolling under your feet!!

But before I get carried away with that one there are many memorable tunes here. ‘The Forlorn Queen’, is taken from the Bunting Collection, published in 1797, and if the word ‘haunting’ wasn’t so over-used I’d be tempted. It is a melody for which no words have been traced and to be honest it is so eloquently written that I doubt if words could ever do it any justice. McKay allows the tune to unfold in a stately, unhurried manner and it is one of those that I keep replaying. Another one is ‘Maurice O’Connor’ and this time it is one of Carolan’s. McKay takes it solo and the grace and elegance that characterise some of the best of the blind harper’s tunes are evident here. Her own, ‘The Loon Mountain Moose’, is equally sprightly and buoyant, abetted by some restrained bass and percussion.

Of the traditional tunes, ‘The Bonfire’, which is three pieces in one, shows off both the fleet-fingered harping and the subtlety of the accompanists whilst ‘More Grog Comin’ brings together another three tunes, all from the Shetland repertoire. Chris Stout’s fiddle gets a chance to solo too as the harp adds its own understated textures.

The album ends with a love song ‘Castle O’Neill’, again without words and from the Bunting Collection. It is a delicate affair with just solo harp to deliver the lovely tune. It is a fitting end to a set that offers spirited revivals from the tradition alongside newer tunes which promise more to come.

If you like the sound of that then you’ll probably also enjoy the collective exuberance of Fiddlers’ Bid, a seven piece specialising in tunes from the Shetland Islands as well as their own compositions. Catriona McKay is a member along side several storming fiddles, guitar and bass guitar. They race through breakneck tunes, like ‘Zander The Sander’, another piece from that boat trip out of Lerwick, a place which also inspired one of their slow airs ‘Leaving Lerwick Harbour’. The latter exudes a melancholy grace as massed fiddles soar over the rippling harp. It is both poignant and effective.

The band’s Shetland roots are explored in traditional pieces such as, ‘Du’s Bun Lang Awa An A’m Tocht Ta See Dee’ or ‘You Have Been Long Away And I’ve Thought Long About Seeing You Again’, a tune that was played as part of a Shetland wedding. Music for wedding nights features again on ‘Da Farder Ben Da Welcomer’, a tune to do with ‘bedding the bride’, apparently. It’s all played with gusto and obvious pleasure. I bet they are a joy to witness on stage.

So to bring me back to where I started there is another harp tune, ‘Christine’ which is a simple and expressive showcase before McKay’s ‘The Swan’ closes the album, this time as a bigger band version which retains every bit of the tune’s delicacy. Currently favourite contender for my ‘tune of the year’ it wraps up a breath-taking set of vital playing that warms the spirit in these dark days of the new year.

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Drop The Debt : Various Artists

Drop the Debt

Various Artists

Drop the Debt (Wrasse Records : WRASS 095)

Music allied to a cause can sometimes be a disappointing enterprise. Are a bunch of egos hi-jacking music to promote their sagging profiles? Occasionally such projects suffer from musical blandness, which may not help the cause much. Thankfully, this CD manages to escape all of these pitfalls. It is a varied and constantly listenable album and anyone who parts with the asking price is contributing to a more than worthy campaign. And all the tracks are exclusive to this CD.

Artists from Brazil to Senegal, Cameroon to Venezuela join with each other in addressing and opposing a common problem. So, as you might expect, there are many diverse musical voices sharing the same space. Fernanda Abreu & MV Bill blend voices, which are partly submerged in the drum, dominated mix. Electronic and acoustic musics sit easily side by side. The huge brassy arrangements of Columbia’s Toto la Momposina urge on the equally huge, spirited vocals which declare that: ‘We Have to end the debt/So we can move forward’.

Brazil and Ivory Coast join forces in a reggae based polemic. Tiken Jah Fakoly & Tribo de Jah “Baba” declare that their ‘parents die in poverty’ working the fields while the tv coldly states that ‘the country’s success depends on farming’. Meiway, also from the Ivory Coast, reiterate the message ‘cancel the debt’ on Assez’, using a deceptively relaxed groove.

The cool reggae and brass of Zedess sound equally relaxed but the words again are angry on ‘Cadeau Empoisonne’, accusing the World Bank and the IMF who ‘were born to hand out poisoned chalices’. Massila Sound System incorporate a sample of Thomas Sankara’s passionate speech, made shortly before his assassination, into their mix of raw guitar and choppy electronic rhythms.

This contrasts with the spectre of blandness, which intrudes briefly on Africa South’s ‘The Third World Cries Everyday’, a track that has neither verbal nor musical passion. Fortunately, Oliver Mtukudze can always be relied upon to deliver both. His ‘Murimi Munhu’ sets his own gruffly distinctive voice against a gently melodic backdrop of guitars and female vocals. It is capable of moving you whether or not you speak his language. Like much of the music here it transcends linguistic barriers and speaks to the whole body.

There are many styles represented on this CD united by the same sense of injustice and every track has earned its place. Definitely recommended.

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www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk

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Yair Dalal Releases Asmar

Yair Dalal - Asmar
Yair Dalal – Asmar
Yair Dalal

Asmar (MagdaMGD039, 2002)

Yair Dalal is one of the top instrumentalists in Israel. He is a master of the ud and violin. On Asmar he performs his own modern compositions, as well as pieces by other composers and one Iraqi folk song. Dalal’s music is inspired by Iraqi and Persian classical and folk music. He is accompanied by an all-acoustic ensemble of singers and musicians that play Arabic and Indian percussion, ud, viola and accordion.

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Cristina Branco Releases Corpo Illuminado

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Cristina Branco – Corpo Iluminadoe
Cristina Branco

Corpo Iluminado (Decca Records/Universal, 440 014 151 2, 2002)

Cristina Branco is one of the finest new fado singers. Her prodigious voice is passionate and elegant. The collection of fado classics, traditional songs and modern compositions have the characteristic melancholic feeling and feature traditional style arrangements with vocals accompanied by Portuguese guitar, guitar and bass guitar.

Artistic supervisor and arranger Custódio Castelo has created an intimate atmosphere for delightful intimate music.

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Obo Addy

Obo Addy - Wonche Bi
Obo Addy – Wonche Bi
Obo Addy

Wonche Bi (Alula Records Alu-1025, 2001)

Obo Addy is a Ghanaian singer, percussionist, traditional spiritual healer, and a Wonche priest of the Ga culture. Living now in the United States, his contemporary African music combines Ghanaian roots music with American sounds such as soul, blues and jazz.

 

Obo Addy’s music is powerful and intense with a several trap drummers, a solid brass section, backing vocals and outstanding percussion solos on the talking drum of which Addy is a true master.

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