Celtic harpist Rachel Hair and guitarist Ron Jappy met during a European tour and decided that they clicked, musically. The result of that meeting was the instrumental album Sparks in 2019 and has now been followed by Élan which, to my mind, does exactly what an album like this should. It takes a combination of traditional and new tunes, from various places, and puts them together in a way that acknowledges the past without ever being constrained by it. Rachel is considered one of the finest harpists to come out of Scotland in recent years, in itself high praise, with five albums to her credit. Ron is a guitarist, pianist and fiddle player who has worked on a number of projects and collaborations.
The album opens with ‘The Transatlantic Proposal’, two tunes written by Rachel that gets sets the pace and style of the album. Rachel’s playing is very dynamic and precise with a sound that is different to other harp music I’ve heard. It’s slightly less reverberant and some people who’ve listened to it wondered if it was actually a hammered dulcimer and you can see why; it has that crispness to it. Ron’s guitar is the perfect accompaniment, supporting the tune and allowing Rachel full range whilst providing the steady rhythm that is often overlooked.
Rachel provides six other tunes and an interesting one is ‘McLeods Of Waipu’, which was inspired by a visit to New Zealand. European settlement in the area was led by one Rev Norman McLeod, who originally came from Rachel’s home town of Ullapool. This piece is almost five minutes long and so gives her the chance to develop themes and explore images to great effect, within a sensitive piece that captures landscape very well.
Around the core of Rachel’s work are tunes, both traditional and modern, from various places. ‘John McDonald’s’ is a traditional Scottish reel, but with Rachel’s style it sounds very modern and Ron keeps the support firmly on track. Modern composer aren’t forgotten either and ‘Cape Breton Jigs’ are three pieces by Cape Breton fiddlers. Also featuring on this track, and several others, is the bodhran of Adam Brown, well known as part of Imar and RURA, giving an additional layer of rhythm.
Élan is an outstanding instrumental album in a year which has already produced so many. The vitality and variety it has means you can either dip in and out, or play it straight through and there will always be something to catch your ear. The album was released on the 19th May and is available as a download through Bandcamp or a CD through Rachel’s website.
Artists’ website: https://www.rachelhair.com/
There are no videos of tracks on Élan.