Burden LakeKevin Henderson is a Shetland fiddler player. At age fourteen he was a founder member of Fiddlers’ Bid and he released an impressive solo album nine years ago. Since then he has performed with Boys Of The Lough, Session A9 and Nordic Fiddlers Bloc – quite a CV. Neil Pearlman is from Portland, Maine via New York and plays piano influenced by the Cape Breton style – fast and exciting – and mandolin. He’s also known to play accordion and indulge in step dancing but refrains from those on Burden Lake. He grew up deeply immersed in Scottish music which helped bring the duo together.

They kick off with ‘Sjovald’, a roll up the carpet and hit the floor type of tune by Henderson with Pearlman teaching the piano who’s in charge. They slow things down with ‘Liam’s’, a tune for Henderson’s youngest son. It’s not a wimpy tune but it shows that they are no one-trick ponies and reminds the listener not to jump to conclusions. ‘Tune For Lukas’ is for Henderson’s eldest son and it’s paired with ‘Talons Trip To Thompson Island’, the only tune here that I know for certain that he’s recorded before. It’s a lovely bouncy set.

‘Da Trowie Burn’ is attributed to Friedemann Stickle and I’m not going to argue the point. It’s certainly an old Shetland tune. It opens with tinkling piano and slow haunting fiddle Pearlman takes over the lead for the middle section indulging in decidedly non-traditional decoration before Henderson picks up again. It’s superb. I always think that Scottish place names are much more romantic than English ones and the first composition of the next set is ‘Head Her In For Bastavoe’. I took the trouble to look it up. Basta Voe, as it is now known, is a sea inlet squeezed between two hamlets on the island of Yell. Hardly romantic but I suspect that the fact that the locals chose to name a tune for it means that it was important as a safe anchorage. Coupled with ‘Sillocks And Tatties’ and ‘The Magic Roundabout’, the set calls to mind a boat being wrestled home against the wild sea. Sillocks are young coalfish as you probably know.

Pearlman composed ‘Gas Station Raptors/The Strat-O-Matic King’ and ‘San Simon/47 Hours’ for which he gets out his mandolin and we also get to appreciate Neil Harland’s double-bass which provides an unobtrusive foundation for much of the record. Finally comes ‘Burden Lake’. The record was written by this stretch of water in New York state which was frozen at the time, although it was recorded in Newcastle, and is a gentle, dreamy piece, at least initially, but the players build up the intensity before a middle section of pizzicato fiddle over the piano before they go for the big finish – which actually drifts out of sight at the end.

Burden Lake is rooted in the tradition but Kevin and Neil work in bits of jazz and even funk without being obvious about it. The more you listen, the more you get.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Sjovald’ and chat – live:

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