MAIREARAD & ANNA – Farran (Shouty Records SHOUTYCD04)

FarranFarran is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and is also Mairearad Green and Anna Massie’s fourth album as a duo. It’s a stripped back album recorded by Andrea Gobbi and co-produced by Calum MacCrimmon of Breabach, recorded off the floor with accordion, pipes, fiddle, guitar and Anna’s voice on one track.

The album kicks off at a pace with three pipe tunes by Mairearad’s teacher, P/M Norman Gillies, followed by ‘Wee McGhee’s’ which starts deceptively slowly but builds up speed as Mairearad starts to slip the triples in. It’s a really nice set as is ‘The Merton Set’ with Anna’s “peal of bells’ figure on the guitar’s bass notes on her own tune, ‘Laura Drummond’ Slip Jig’. It also lets the listener get some breath back for a while, although the third tune in the set, Mairearad’s ‘Emma And Ali’s Wedding’ picks up the pace again.

Up next is the only song, ‘Molly May’ – check out the cover – by Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. (John Paul) Cormier and given its country of origin and subject matter I don’t need to tell you who it puts me in mind of. It’s set in Nova Scotia, by the way, and I like it a lot. Then we have another pacy set, ‘Jamie’s’, followed by a chance for Anna to show off on guitar with a set of more reflective tunes, ‘Rachel Newton’s ‘The Eggshell Brewery’ and  Ian Henderson’s ‘Trip To Austin’ – I have a romantic notion of someone playing the latter as the boats come in to port but don’t ask me why.

‘Willie Macrea Of Ullapool’, another tune by P/M Gillies, sees Anna switch to fiddle playing in the style of a slow march before Mairearad joins in. There’s a traditional set before the album closes with a beautiful fiddle tune, ‘Mo Chailean – Dileas Donn’, written by Hector Mackenzie, an Ullapool fisherman.

Farran seems a little short but there is no doubt that Mairearad and Anna have produced another fine album.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.mairearadandanna.com/

‘Polkas’ from Summer Isle Festival:

Mairearad and Anna announce their new album

Mairearad And Anna

Given that Mairearad grew up by Achnahaird bay and is now living by the sea in Ullapool and Anna is from the village of Fortrose by the Moray Firth, it is not surprising that there is a marine themed title and cover illustration for this duo’s fourth album. The album is called Farran which is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and the beautiful marine illustrations for the cover design are by illustrator and mural artist, Chelsea Frew from Glasgow. (chelseafrew.com)

The concept for this duo’s fourth album is to represent exactly what this virtuosic duo perform live. It is the stripped back sound of vocals, guitar, accordion, fiddle and bagpipes and it was recorded live at Gloworm studio in Glasgow with co-producer, Calum MacCrimmon from the band, ‘Breabach’. The material includes the JP Cormier song about a boat, ‘Molly May’ and a haunting fiddle number ‘Mo Chailin – Dileas Donn’ written by Ullapool fisherman, Hector Mackenzie. Also on the album, there’s a foot stomping set of local reels written by Mairearad’s piping teacher, PM Norman Gillies, and many other great tunes, notably, some self penned compositions which is a staple for this pair’s music.

Mairearad says, “Moving back up North and living by the sea in Ullapool definitely slows you down! This has allowed more time to discover some fantastic local tunes that we are delighted to include on this album.”

The duo will be touring the album in the UK in November 2018.

Artists’ website: https://www.mairearadandanna.com/

‘Musical Flowers’:

BLAZIN’ FIDDLES – The Key (Blazin’ Records BFCD2017)

The KeyAs is often the case I initially listened to The Key while driving and my first thought was that it seemed very restrained. Second time around it still seems that way, although “tight” and “controlled” might be better adjectives.

We all know how Blazin’ Fiddles can make a stage rock but this is a bit different. They start, as they must, with set of reels, ‘Break The Light’ and a set of jigs, ‘Double Rise’. Both are full of energy but allow solos to peek through. The third set, ‘The Black Pig’ opens with ‘McFall’s March’ written by Jenna Reid and initially soloed by the acoustic guitar of Anna Massie. Then the fiddles sweep in and I do mean ‘sweep’ – they arrive like an ocean tide, move through ‘Lucy Campbell’ and take the brakes off for ‘The Black Pig’ itself.

Next comes the first tune of the set to be written by band leader Bruce MacGregor. ‘Annie’s Waltz’ is a lilting fiddle duet underpinned by guitar and Angus Lyon’s piano which also opens ‘Picnic In The Sky’ linking the two tracks together. Here, a pipe march is mated with a reel by Debbie Scott and another by Matheu Watson. Ivan Drever wrote the air ‘The Rose Of St. Magnus’ which is performed as a duet by fellow Orcadian Kristan Harvey and Angus Lyon. It’s a gorgeous tune and about as mellow as Blazin’ Fiddles can possibly get but just as you might be drifting off they hit you with ‘The Ox’; a most appropriate title at this point in the programme.

‘The Beeswing’ is essentially a solo by Ruairidh Macmillan except that he’s accompanied by Angus and Annie. Now, we’re picking up the pace for ‘The Highlander’s Revenge’, another of Bruce’s tunes paired with a Jerry Holland reel featuring a bit of funky guitar and some wild fiddle playing. ‘The Silent Command’ is equally brash but the band slows the pace just a little for Hamish Napier’s ‘Wind Song’. The final set, ‘Harris Dance’, begins in proper Shetland fashion with a tune by Tom Anderson, wanders over the sea to Cape Breton and finally lands in the Hebrides for the title tune.

I think that The Key is probably the best of the Blazin’ Fiddles albums that I’ve heard, although that isn’t all of them. If there is a better one, tell me about it.

Dai Jeffries

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Blazin’ Fiddles live at Celtic Connections 2016:

MAIREARAD & ANNA – Best Day (Shouty Records SHOUTYCD03)

Best DayBest Day is the third album from two of Scotland’s finest instrumentalists, Mairearad Green and Anna Massie, recorded as live in the little Lowlands studio run by Angus Lyon and called Gran’s House.

The first set is called ‘The Red Poppy’ and opens with one of those great Scottish titles, ‘Mrs Colonel L Baillie Of Redcastle’ (‘Captain Campbell Of Drum Of Voisk’ comes later but P/M Duncan Campbell made that one up). That is followed by a set from Cape Breton fiddlers Jerry Holland and Otis Tomas which is bright and sparkly and then the mood changes twice. First comes the rather sedate ‘Musical Flowers’, written for the ladies of the village of Achiltibuie and paired with a traditional polska. Then comes the real surprise as Anna sings ‘She Loves Me (When I Try)’ which, like many of Dougie MacLean’s songs gets under you skin very quickly.

And it goes on: ‘Bottle Island’ is a lovely set including the title track and ‘Julia & Simon’s’ is a pretty slow air. There’s another song, Nanci Griffith’s ‘Always Will’, a sparkling ‘Banjo Set’ and a fine set of traditional ‘Pipe Reels’ to finish off with. All in all, a damn fine album.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.mairearadandanna.com

Mairearad and Anna play a set of polkas at the Summer Isles Festival:

GILLIAN FRAME – Pendulum (Cheery Groove CHEERY005)

PendulumGillian Frame was Scotland’s first Young Traditional Musician Of The Year. That was back in 2001 and it’s taken her the fifteen years since to release her first solo album. Of course she recorded three with the band she helped found, Back Of The Moon, played sessions for other bands and taught fiddle and the songs and tunes performed on Pendulum have been with her from those early days.

There are some fine musicians on the album – a core band of Mike Vass, Anna Massie and Euan Burton with guests Adam Holmes (who is making a name for himself with his own band) and Phil Hague. Despite this fine cast, what I like about this album is its essential directness and simplicity. The songs speak for themselves and the instrumental sets are not excuses for displays of ego.

The record opens with a vigour that initially surprised me. The song is ‘Rothes Colliery’, written by Gillian’s husband, Findlay Napier. It’s a straightforward song about the loss of a colliery and is sung in an appropriately straightforward manner – an excellent start. ‘Lovely Molly’ is a song of romantic trickery, played with a light touch and, like all the songs, sung without false emotion.

I’m in no way swayed by the fact that one of my all-time favourite Scottish songs, ‘Silver Tassie’, is included in the set with Holmes sharing lead vocals and that it’s followed immediately with ‘Fine Flooers In The Valley’ with ‘The Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ as a bonus. This is an excellent album.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.gillianframe.com

MICHELLE BURKE – Step Into My Parlour (Kilcronat Records KLC002CD)

StepIntoMyParlourIt’s probably a dreadful cliché to describe this album as “beguiling” but that is exactly what it is. The style stems from Michelle’s childhood memories of Sunday singsongs after mass at her grandparents’ house and the songs here are the same eclectic mix that would have been sung then.

James Ross provides the piano accompaniments which we suppose would have been integral to the proceedings and Michelle is joined by a number of star guests including Cathal McConnell, Anna Massie, Brendan Power and Heidi Talbot. Despite the stellar cast the album retains the feeling of the front parlour with everyone on their best behaviour – which our imaginations can contrast with the saloon bar down the street.

The opening track, ‘Eileen O’Grady’, is a song of courting that was once in the repertoire of Josef Locke and it’s followed by a real heartstring-tugging ballad, ‘Dan O’Hara’, written by the remarkable Delia Murphy, or at least recorded by her. This isn’t the place to recount her story but I urge you to look her up on the interweb. The blend of traditional Irish songs like ‘A Kiss In The Morning Early’ and ‘My Boy Billy’ – rarely heard these days – and popular songs like ‘Twilight Time’ from The Platters is topped off by Aunty Peggy’s party-piece, ‘Whooped And Died’, on which Michelle is joined by members of her family, reinforcing the sense of time and place.

You might find Step Into My Parlour a bit Val Doonican and perhaps it is but he too was a product of the same times and places and sometimes nostalgia can be a wonderful thing.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.michelleburkemusic.com

The official promo video: