Wednesday 6 December 2017


CD Review


Ross Ainslie

At the risk of making a massive understatement, Ross Ainslie’s new album is eclectic in the genres and sounds he brings together on his third album. This said the one constant thread is tartan; the flavour of the musician’s home of Scotland is there in every track.

Prolific and multi-talented, Ainslie takes the listener on a journey with his music. There is also an element of the cathartic as it seems to mark a watershed in his life in terms of his relationship with alcohol.

The opener is a calm, ethnic sounding track with the varied line up of instruments creating a chilled atmosphere, before Ainslie comes in on the bansuri, one of several instruments he plays on the track.

It undoubtedly has the sound of India, as Ainslie intended, but with subtle little touches such as, if you listen carefully, you will hear the banjo underneath the other instruments.

Talking of banjo it gets more of a show on the light Happy Place, this time though from the expert fingers of guest Damien O’Kane whose own new album Avenging & Bright is due out any day now. The tune does exactly what it says on the tin and provides a light and happy space in which to enjoy Ainslie’s whistle playing.

Sense of Family is brought in with the doleful tones of Greg Lawson on fiddle and is then delicately picked through with guitar and cittern before being wrapped up in Ainslie’s ultra-smooth whistle.

The previous track segues into Protect Yourself where Steven Byrnes provides the guitar rhythm as Ainslie flexes his whistle fingers for this fast-paced tune which, in turn, leads to the much mellower pace of Surroundings the lightness of Ainslie’s whistle lightly dancing across what is a funk style under beat.

Once again the long and lingering last note leads into Beautiful Mysteries which brings back the Asian influence. This time the feel is more Turkish or Syrian. It has a hypnotic cadence and you almost feel yourself swaying back and forth like a cobra in a basket.

Zakir Hussain
Home in Another Dimension continues that theme with Zakir Hussain providing the distinctive sound of the tabla to help create the atmosphere of what could easily be the background to swirling dancers enthralling everyone with their movements. 

Added to this you have Lawson creating a vortex of sound with some incredible fiddle playing to give the whole track a touch of the manic.

This album is designed to sound like one continuous track with only the odd strategically placed snap break to distinguish between some of the tunes.

Ainslie moves more towards the jazz camp for Cloud Surfing with his whistle very much taking the lead and keep the pace racing along for what is a very easy listening piece.

The cittern keeps the pace up for Obstacles of the Mind which brings in a mixture of the Middle East and gypsy music. It is intertwined with the mysterious sounding fiddle and the solid percussion of Cormac Byrne.

Again there is no breathing space between this track and the next, Road to Recovery. Ainslie’s small pipes take on a muted role with his whistle playing. Hussain adds to proceedings with his subtle tabla beat.

Its abrupt end seems almost accidental as Let the Wild Ones Roam comes in immediately. Again Ainslie brings his skilful pipe playing to the fore, almost as if to reassert that this is traditional and even more so Scottish roots traditional.

The pipes come at you like machine gun fire and are wonderfully tempered by O’Kane’s banjo skills to form what is probably the most traditional, and the longest, track on the album.

The new album
The final track, Escaping Gravity, is yet another twist in the form of a spoken poem with co-writer Jock Urquhart providing the narration over the top of a repetitive tune.

The cryptic lines will speak in different ways to listeners but there is a message of hope rising from what comes across, at first, as cynicism and disillusionment but ultimately there is change and the music as Ainslie admits is his own inner sanctuary.

You can hear the influences of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells in the structure and form of Ainslie’s album but that’s really where the similarities end.

This album comes across as a very personal journey for Ainslie who in his own words says: “I would retreat to my room a lot…I’ve found it to be a very productive and creative space, if I’m having a bad day music is always the thing that will pick me up…that’s why this album is called Sanctuary.”

Sanctuary now is available on Great White Records from the artist’s website and across all online platforms.

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