James Duncan Mackenzie is, as you know, piper and flautist with Breabach, one of the finest of the young Scottish bands. James is from the Isle of Lewis and there is a big story behind Sròmos, his second solo album: the history of the island over the last two centuries, its landscape, myths and characters. It’s a completely instrumental album, all self-composed with a core band of producer John Lowrie, Alan Nairn, Innes White and James Lindsay and two guest fiddlers; Alasdair White and Jack Smedley. James provides brief but very informative notes that make me want to seek out a book on the history of Lewis.
The opening title track starts with echoey notes on Lowrie’s Rhodes piano and you might think that you’re in for something very modern but James’ flute immediately takes up a very traditional sounding tune. The music builds almost like a ceilidh band before the tune fades back to the Rhodes and leads gently into the linked piece, ‘The Lazy Beds Of Rias’. Sròmos was a settlement cleared in the 19th century to make way for deer. It’s a common story across the Highlands, I know, but it’s made more poignant by the fact that the ruins can still be seen. Lazy beds are are version of ridge and furrow cultivation and their remains can be seen too. And now this is beginning to sound like a history lesson.
James’ pipes are first heard in the middle of ‘The Garron/The Plough On The Cross-Beam’ but he returns to the flute for the absolutely delightful ‘Stornoway Waltz’ with the melody played in double time over a steady but unobtrusive dance beat. ‘Land Raiders’ is another great story opening with flute over White’s acoustic guitar. The intensity builds as the pipes take over for the angry second and third sections.’Walk Home’ concerns the wreck of a troop-ship in 1919 while the up-tempo ‘Langavat’ describes two notable features of the Lewis landscape and there’s more history to take us the close.
Sròmos is an absolutely delightful album; a soundtrack for a visit to the Isle of Lewis should you ever get to cross the Minch.
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Artist’s website: http://www.jamesduncanmackenzie.com/
James and his band live: