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’:

RANT announce their third album

Rant

RANT is the meeting of four of Scotland’s finest fiddle players: two from the Shetland Islands and two from the Highlands.  Their third album, The Portage, was recorded over four days in the renowned Mackintosh Queen’s Cross, the only church in the world to be designed by architect, artist and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This space was the ideal setting to capture what RANT do best; showcasing the rich resonance of their four fiddles in various tunings and textures in a stark, honest recording.

​Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Lauren MacColl and Anna Massie join forces to create a sound which is both rich and lush, yet retaining all the bite and spark synonymous with a Scottish fiddle player. Using just their fiddles, they weave a tapestry of melodies, layers and sounds. Known for their work as soloists and with various bands, this is a celebration of the instrument they all have a passion for.

Since the release of their debut album RANT in 2013, which won them critical acclaim in the form of a Herald Angel Award for outstanding performance across all the Edinburgh Festivals , the band have made major festival and concert appearances across the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. They provided strings for Julie Fowlis’ Gach Sguel album, and their music has been used for both BBC and ITV national television programmes.

Their live set reflects the years of honing their sound together and their love for their home areas of Shetland and the Highlands through the writing, repertoire and stories. The name The Portage comes from a composition of Bethany’s relating to her home village of Quarff in Shetland, which translates as ‘the portage’ in Old Norse.

Being located at a very narrow point of land on the islands, the area was long used for carrying boats and goods from the east coast (North Sea) to the west (Atlantic), avoiding a sea-journey of almost 40 miles. The artwork for The Portage is an original painting by Shetland-based landscape artist Ruth Brownlee.

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‘JT’s’ – live at Celtic Connections:

Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola announce new album

Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola

The follow-up to their highly successful debut album, Widdershins sees Norway-based Scottish/Finnish duo Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola further develop their unique sound and telepathic interplay.

Scots for ‘anti-clockwise’, or going against the norm (whether it be religious, social or musical), Widdershins perfectly sums up this exhilarating meeting of minds.

This album conveys the duo’s raw energy directly to the listener, radiating a sense of joy and excitement. Each track was recorded live in the same room, and is left completely un-edited.

Sarah-Jane and Juhani create cutting-edge acoustic folk music, encompassing the whole spectrum of emotions. From the nocturnal mood of ‘Sydänyö’ to the acoustic noise-rock of ‘Widdershins’, from the rollicking fun of ‘Spike On A Bike’ to the haunting bleakness of ‘A’Cheapach Na Fasach’, this album invites you on a cinematic journey into strange and wonderful new worlds.

Taught by the late great Donald Riddell, Sarah-Jane plays with the award-winning group RANT, as well as working with contemporary music. Juhani is a sought-after Finnish guitarist and record producer. Both have released critically acclaimed solo-albums.

Artist’s website: http://www.sarah-janesummers.com/

‘Spike On A Bike’ – live:

RANT – Reverie (Make Believe Records MBR6CD)

ReverieIf you’re going to make music with a band that consists of just fiddles and violas you have to pretty sure of your ground otherwise it’s going to get rather dull.

Sure, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren McColl stretch the point by importing vocalists for two tracks but they import the best – Julie Fowlis and Ewan McLennan. The opening track, ‘JT’s’, written by Bethany makes a bold statement with almost staccato fiddle phrases leading into a sweeter restatement and then a rocking melody. The mood changes immediately with a set of two traditional tunes, ‘Miss Drummond Of Perth’s Favourite Scotch Measure’ – another great old title – which is given an almost eerie opening and ‘Strathbogie’s Toast’ from Niel Gow’s collection. ‘Dad’s 60th’ is another tune by Bethany, a bright march with echoes of older pieces hidden within it.

The first of the songs is ‘Mary’s Dream’. The words are by the 18th century Galloway poet, John Lowe’ and the tune is traditional – a variant of ‘The Parting Glass’. McLennan’s warm voice is complemented by almost tender fiddle parts. Julie Fowlis sings the other song, ‘Thug Thu Chonnlach As An T-Sabhal’, a strathspey tune with a very different feel. Her vocal dexterity with the Gaelic language is always a delight.

There are two pieces from James Scott Skinner who is always good value, two by Lauren and a couple of covers and the final track is an Icelandic hymn, ‘Fyrir Mig, Jesú, þoldir þú’, brought to the band by Jenna and rearranged by Bethany with an ethereal feel that’s almost chilling, bringing the album to a lovely close.

Dai Jeffries

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The promotional video: