RANT – The Portage (Make Believe Records, MBR8CD)

The PortageThe quartet of superbly talented individual fiddle players – Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Lauren MacColl and Anna Massie – who in combination make up Rant, have just released their third album, The Portage.

Recorded over four days at Queen’s Cross Church in Glasgow (Charles Rennie Macintosh’s only completed church), the sound is airy, clean and wonderfully detailed. And from the moment the uplifting swirls of ‘Göran Berg’s’ curl up into the air before metamorphosing into its more melancholy companion piece, ‘Crow Road Croft’, it’s obvious that this album is something truly special.

The spaces between the notes make themselves felt in ‘Sir Ronald McDonald’s Reel’, as the snaking lead winds around a volley of plucking before a graceful downward swoop suddenly gets scooped up into the upwardly spiralling motif of ‘Johhny D’s’, served over a dark chocolate richness.

A change in mood comes with the measured and wistful ‘Now Westlin Winds’, before a sprightly ‘Annie Allan’ (with its dark colouring to the playing over an intriguing reggae syncopation) bridges into the Scandinavian ‘Hambo’, a tune with an altogether more classical edge, somewhat Strauss-like in its melodic ebb and flow.

‘Rosemarkie Man’ feels like a blustery walk along windswept Scottish coastlines, while ‘Arnt Ivar’s Polska’ is more stately, tenderly-twining embrace than lively dance tune. An angular prickliness opens ‘The Rescue Man’, warming up as it reaches the sprightly gallop of ‘Pam’s Hoose’. There’s a sensitive flourish to Andy Cutting’s ‘Altfechan’, as it spins out its central, gracefully climbing motif.

The spartan traditional lament of ‘Nach Truagh Mo Chàs’ (‘Hard Is My Fate’) is a tune of such intense mournfulness as to move even the hardest heart. Avoiding mawkishness, it makes for a real sustained hit of raw emotion, after which ‘The Portage’ very sensibly picks up gently. Tasting of salty sea air on a chilly bright day, it’s an affectionate and hopeful tune and a very fitting place to end the album.

Not a note feels out of place or unnecessary in the arrangements, and the performances are absolutely stunning. Whether writing their own tunes or arranging others’ work, Rant captivatingly weave together classical styles and the drive of traditional folk playing, all with an open, contemporary feel. The Portage is a flawless album of understated perfection.

Su O’Brien

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‘Göran Berg’s/Crow Road Croft’: