AIDAN O’ROURKE & KIT DOWNES – 365 Volume 2 (Reveal Records Reveal018CDX)

365 Volume 2Having been privileged to see Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes performing their 365 Volume 1 in 2018, the release of 365 Volume 2 was extremely high on my “most anticipated” list. And rightly so. This two-disc album presents a further 25 compositions inspired by (and fully the equal of) author James Robertson’s virtuoso short-story collection 365: stories.

The music contains its own energy and works perfectly as a standalone piece but, when combined with reading Robertson’s stories (presented in the CD booklet), a strange sympathetic magic occurs. O’Rourke’s music is, after all, created in response to Robertson’s tales and perhaps this is what creates additional sensory depth when the two art forms coincide: a rich, dense, absorbing world evolves with slow-burning intensity.

As in 365 Volume 1, this is a fairly minimalist piece featuring two highly skilful musicians making graceful, richly textural sound paintings – listen to ‘That Place, Mick Said, Christ What A Hole’ or ‘Off The Motorway And Onto The Short Cut, Over The Hill’, to pick just two. A masterful, controlled tightness of playing exists between Downes on piano or harmonium and O’Rourke’s fiddle, yet the overall feeling is free and loose-limbed.

Naturally, traditional music influences feature large, emphatically Scottish in the bluster of ‘That Braggart Has It Coming To Him’, ‘I Met Him Only Once’ and the rustic ‘On This Day The First Recorded Total Eclipse Of Scotland Took Place’. Almost-cheery jigs are slyly subverted in ‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’ and ‘One Day She Decided To Open Her Own Library’, to create a fidgety tension.

Folky motifs also seem favoured to sketch in elements of the natural and supernatural, as in the darkly atmospheric ‘Now You Know About Clootie Wells, Do You?’, the brightly surreal ‘Douglas And Aileen Stood In Front Of The Blue Plaque’ or ‘They’d Start Their Calling Around Midnight’, this last twining vine-like around a jazzy piano.

Angular atonalities slant by like icy rain in ‘We Drove Down That Road Saddened By My Father’ and ‘Right William, Trolley Duty, Kev Said’. The modernist jagged repetition, (think a less-saccharine Einaudi) in ‘The Film Was Preceded By A Warning’ would make a great setting for contemporary dance.

365 Volume 2 is an intimately-recorded performance with each piece a beautiful, vividly-coloured miniature portrait, a perfectly executed distillation of emotion and style. All life is here: drama, empathy, wit and melancholy. The scale of this ambitious project remains as awe-inspiring as the consistently superlative quality of the results.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.aidanorourke.net

Read about the installation at Edinburgh Book Fair here.

‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’: