Ryan Young has already begun garnering what are doubtless only the first of many awards and accolades for his superb fiddle-playing. His self-titled debut album simply brims over with originality and talent: a little sonic jewel. That his fans went out and secured the talents of Grammy-winning Jesse Lewis to produce the album is another huge clue that there is something very special about Young.
Seeking to showcase some of his native Scotland’s less well-known tunes, Young has compiled an album of traditional tune sets in a way that honours them whilst also giving them a complete reworking. There is no slavish homage to tradition here, rather a fearless reshaping of the melody into new stories, where the tunes merely serve as jumping-off points. In this sense, it’s an almost jazz-like approach, circling the melody whilst riffing off exploring new possibilities and opening the sound out in unexpected directions.
Some interesting combinations of tunes are melded seamlessly together by boldness and careful artistry. There’s a key lowered here, a rhythm slowed there, there’s a sidelong glide up to the melody before dancing away again in a birl of slurred notes There’s also a distinct fondness for minor keys – and moody majors – meaning that more than a touch of melancholy sweeps over the album.
On rather better-known tunes such as ‘The Highland Laddie’ it becomes clear quite how distinct Young’s vision is. His interpretation alters the listener’s emotional response to the tune. Somehow it feels intuitive and natural whilst, at the same time, he skilfully manipulates the melodic variations, pushing at boundaries.
While Young’s playing may owe much to the Irish County Clare tradition – the fluid bowing, smudgy grace notes and the lyrical, often slower-paced renditions – it’s also proudly Scottish with its snaps and even an occasionally almost syncopated rhythm (especially as underscored by Leo Forde’s brightly swishing guitar in the second part of the first track). Both Forde and James Ross, on piano, provide restrained, sympathetic and elegant accompaniments throughout, perfectly enhancing the tunesets.
Two of the tracks featured here are Young’s own compositions. They showcase yet another side to his talent, one which will hopefully be featured more in future as his body of work grows. Despite his extensive study and achievement in his field already, a sense of modest self-deprecation comes across in the highly informative set of additional notes that he’s written for the album, and which are available on his website. However, there’s no doubt that he is the real deal and someone very interesting to watch as his career matures.
Artist website: http://www.ryanyoung.scot/
Ryan with Jenn Butterworth at Celtic Connections 2017: