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

Artists’ website:

Blazin’ Fiddles live at Celtic Connections 2016:

ALISTAIR OGILVY – July Moon (July Moon Records JMOO1CD)

July MoonA rising star on the Scottish folk scene, the erstwhile Young Traditional Musician of the Year finalist made quite an impression with his 2012 debut and, expanding his sound to take in lush orchestral arrangements this follow-up should more than consolidate his standing as well as expand his audience.

In addition to the swathes of strings on ‘Deep Blue Sea’, courtesy of cellist Gillian De Groote and viola player Fiona Robertson from the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and an arrangement by film composer Craig Armstrong, the most obvious difference (aside from the Glasgow based multi-instrumentalist now sporting beard and moustache) is that there are no traditional songs here at all. Indeed, all of the material is penned by Ogilvy (two as co-writes with fellow rising star Siobhan Wilson) and, with the possible exception of ‘My Heart Aches’ with its tribal rhythm and delivery style, none sound remotely traditional. Indeed, ‘Left Over Shells’, which features Rosyln Potter on backing vocals, blossoms into soaring folk pop with former Blazin’ Fiddles member Kristan Harvey on violin while, both featuring vocals from Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson, the slow sway waltzing ‘Clasping Sea’ hints at 60s dramatic pop balladry and the title track with its shimmering guitar opening and stadium-muscle arrangement conjures Snow Patrol or early Coldplay.

Elsewhere, ‘Rest And Be Thankful’ is a more restrained, sunrays sparkling fingerpicked acoustic number while the female vocal drone intro and a tap dripping casio backdrop (courtesy of Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott, who also produced and played drums) brings an experimental flavour to Wilson co-write ‘Bottle of Wine’ before, mid-way in, it takes off into the rafters on violin wings and a swirl of melody and textured instrumentation that captures a giddy euphoria while Wilson features prominently, taking solo vocal over acoustic guitar and shimmering moog on the first 90 odd seconds of her other co-credit, ‘She’s Leaving’.

With its fairground waltzer guitar intro and rich, heady violin and piano climax, ‘Aloft The Trees’ brings the album to an all too soon close, though on the plus side is that you don’t have to wait too long to play it again. And you’ll certainly want to.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: