Wednesday, 21 January 2015

BLAZIN' FIDDLES

CD Review

Solo

This is one of those albums which does exactly what it says on the sleeve. The talented members of Blazin' Fiddles, apart from one who appears on several of the tracks, have contributed essentially solo performances for their new album.

Jenna Reid, Bruce MacGregor, Rua MacMillan, Anna Massie, Kristan Harvey and Angus Lyon - Blazin' Fiddles
If you cornered each one of them and said, "Right show us just how well you can play your instrument," then most likely this how it would have turned out.
Blazin' Fiddles is essentially a collective of musicians who you will find playing individually all over the folk and geographical world.
But they come together to show just how versatile and enjoyable traditional fiddle music can be.
Newest member Kristan Harvey, from Orkney, award-winner Rua MacMillan, from Nairn,  radio presenter Bruce MacGregor, from Inverness, Jenna Reid, from the Shetlands and multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie, from Fortrose have each contributed two tracks which highlight the diversity and richness of Scottish and highland music featuring Angus Lyon from Lanarkshire, who, at the very least, accompanies on the piano on several tracks.
Reid opens and closes the album with Carnival and Feltar Lullaby and just as they are at opposite ends of the album they are also at opposite ends of the musical style sheet.
Carnival is three tunes for the price of one with the previously mentioned track, Lucky - Can You Link Ony and Arisdale Burn.
The first of the tunes eases you into the album with Reid lifting a lovely smooth and lilting sound from the strings of her instrument.
The band rehearsing
The second third has lovely high-pitched crescendos at the top of almost every bar and gradually picks up tempo and towards the end catches a hoe down feel.
Her second offering Fetlar Lullaby, as you would expect, is a very restful piece with the long drawn out bow play that is gently accented in the background by the understated piano playing of Lyon. It's a beautiful semi-classical piece played wonderfully note perfect by Reid, there is real emotion and depth in every stroke of the horsehair across the strings.
To start her two offerings Harvey has also gone for a triplet, opening with a funkier sound that has jazz overtones to bring Billy's Short Leg, this seamlessly slides into the more traditional and highland jig, Ian McLeod's.
As Harvey reaches the last third with Mind the Dresser we are dancing in the kitchen with a light and lively sound from one of her favourite fiddlers Liz Carroll.
Harvey's second piece is also a three parter The Yow: Balchraggan, Netherbow and The Wan-Legged Yow.
The opening march bears similarities to Reid's lullaby but it does have a quicker pace and is none the less languid and precise which gives way to the more regimented second tune which has deeper tones and staccato movement over the strings of her gorgeous playing.
The final part is the real toe-tapper, you can almost see the tartan being woven as the notes fly into the air at quite a pace.
MacGregor opens his section of the album with a couple of marches. Donald's Tunes a light and jaunty offering which almost gets you yearning to go skipping over the heather and gorse and like his predecessors is an abject lesson in precision playing.
Anna Massie
The Hon. Mrs Rous is one of those tunes never designed to be sat and listened to, the very meter of the tune tells you to get up and dance around even down to the long bow out at the end.
Lonely and melancholy are the notes which gently rise from the strings on MacGregor's second offering Nach Truagh Mo Chas(Hard Is My Fate). This air could easily find its place as the soundtrack to the old silent films. As you listen to it, it conjures images of maidens waiting anxiously for sight or news of their loved ones.
Only reluctantly moving away from the shore as the cold night draws in and forces then indoors. It is a very evocative piece from The Captain Simon Fraser collection. MacGregor's playing gives it a real depth and emotion. MacMillan brings two triplets, opening with Mahagow's before moving into Malt on the Optics ending with the wonderfully titled Henri the Lobster which is linked to a family pet, must be an interesting tale to be uncovered there.
The opener is a slightly rasping and even tune with MacMillan weaving very subtle strands of blues and jazz into it. This gives way to a more traditional and faster paced reel which is a wonderful dancing Celtic sound. The pace picks up even more for the final third, not sure if the lobster was a racing crustacean but the tune certainly skips along matched perfectly by Massie on guitar.
Her second offering consists of Glengrant, Ashley's Strathspey and Anna Thug starts with a highland dance, quick, rapid fire and jaunty with Lyon keeping up on the piano to give it an even bouncier feel.
Once again the pace picks up and you can hear MacMillan's short strokes snapping across the strings. For the final part the strokes are no less frantic but the notes are lower on the scale with Lyon's piano accompaniment trotting along at a canter.
Massie, not to be outdone, goes one better with four offerings at first, Doon the Aisle, The OysterWives' Rant, Mrs Grant of Cullen House and Cranford's Delight.
The much-in-demand Scottish musician, among other projects, spent some of last year, along with
Lyon, touring with Bella Hardy on her 30th Birthday outing.
The new Blazin' Fiddles album
Massie opens with a march written by her dad Bob which is a simple but thoroughly enjoyable undulating tune which mirrors the mountains and glens of Scotland.
Following the pattern of the others, the pace picks up pretty quickly for rapid-fire reels which are given a gently amusing strand with Lyon up and down tinkling the ivories. Massie, like all the players on this album, gives a virtuoso performance right to the end. Mickey Finn has some geography to it and was taught to Massie by fellow Scot Kris Drever who learned it from a man in a pub and was a well known tune in Galway's The Crane Pub thanks to Micky Finn.
Massie here gets a chance to exercise her skill as a guitarist opening with a gentle laid back almost Mediterranean feel to the tune and even seems to have undertones of Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight.
Her gentle strumming, which reminds of the skilled fingers of Martin Simpson, is almost soporific as the sound of the strings gently wash over you like pulling on a freshly washed bath robe straight out of the drier.
If you are not particularly enamoured of fiddle music inspired by and born in the highlands then you are on a serious hiding to nothing with this collection of superb playing, but at the same time you will be missing some of the most precise, full-bodied, delicate and intricate fiddle playing brought together on one album by some of the most respected exponents on the folk map.

Solo is available from the band's website.



















The Mike Harding Folk Show