Blazin’ Fiddles celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. There are several ways to do this: put together a definitive retrospective, release a monster live album or just make a very, very good studio album. That’s what six of Scotland’s finest have done with XXV. If you have seen Blazin’ Fiddles live you’ll know the kind of energy they can put out but what characterises this record is its elegance.
The opening track, ‘Jukebox’, begins as you might expect. It’s a set of three tunes from both sides of the Atlantic including Jay Ungar’s ‘Vladimir’s Steamboat’ and although it is energetic it doesn’t get silly. Bruce MacGregor places ‘Strone Point’ as the site of Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, although maps place it somewhere else. The castle is near the hamlet of Strone so it’s close enough. It begins with fiddle underpinned by Anna Massie’s guitar in a slow, slightly mournful style but picks up speed before being taken over by Angus Lyon’s piano and finally morphing into the reel, ‘Anne Lacey’s’, by Liz Carroll and the track’s big finish.
Lyon’s piano opens Ruairidh Gollan’s ‘Call Her Mum’ and holds it all together. This is what I mean by elegance; it boasts a big powerful arrangement but is somehow restrained and comes to a glorious end. ‘Devil’s Polska/Washington State Park’ combines a tune from Finland with one written by Lyon and Ruaridh Campbell. ‘Bouchard Quadrille Waltz’ is the first traditional tune on the album. It comes from Quebec and was brought to the band by Jenna Reid and it presumably she who plays the lead fiddle part, slightly mournful at first but then picking up a swing as it moves into ‘Maguire And Paterson’ with Blazin’ Fiddles sounding like an orchestra. Think of those black and white films we had to endure on Sunday afternoon television and you get the idea.
Jenna wrote ‘The Windmill’ for Sarah-Jane Summers and combines it with two tunes by Simon Bradley. The next set of four tunes, ‘Goodfellow’s’, were written by Anna, Kristan Harvey, Rua MacMillan and Jenna respectively for their annual Blazin’ In Beauly Festival. It’s lovely to hear Anna get a turn up front even though she doesn’t hold on to it for very long. It’s a terrific set.
Bruce wrote ‘The Road To Skye’ as country fiddle tune and it’s pretty authentic but with a definitely Scottish flavour. The second traditional tune, ‘Willie’s Auld Trews’, is almost hidden in the final set. It starts with another lyrical tune by Bruce, followed by a waltz by Anna – she gets to play the first few bars before being shouldered out the way. The final tune in the set and the album is by Maurice Lennon.
As you might have gathered, I like XXV rather a lot.
Artists’ website: https://www.blazinfiddles.com/
‘The Windmill’ – live in the studio: