ASSYNT – Road To The North (Garthland Records, GAR001CD)

Road To The NorthThe trio of musicians who make up Assynt may still only be in their 20s but between them have already amassed a barrowload of nominations and awards. Having worked with many of Scotland’s finest musicians, this year they finally came together as Assynt (named after an area of North-West Scotland). So, as the first album from this newly-minted group, there’s plenty of anticipation surrounding Road To The North.

That it’s an album of largely original material is the first of many pleasant surprises. Pipes and whistles man David Shedden contributes by far the largest share, although Graham Mackenzie (fiddle) and Innes White (guitar / mandolin) demonstrate equally strong composition skills. Only the final track, ‘Harris Dance’ presents a set of traditional tunes, drawing the line of continuity between old and new.

White’s understated playing is the keystone to the band, holding the centre rhythmically and with great sensitivity. Sometimes loose and jazzy (‘Fiend And The Hound’), at other times hinting at Spanish style (‘Aidan Jack’), or playfully riding the beat on ‘No Way Out’, he’s got flair to spare. On the lovely ‘Ava May’, his spare accompaniment underscores a lyrical lament very much in the Highland tradition.

Sheddon’s vigorous and nimble piping is at the fore on ‘The One Upper’ and title track, ‘Road To The North’. Mackenzie, whose clean style tends to minimal vibrato afterburn, readily matches or complements him, as the tunes demand. Frequently, fiddle and pipes/whistles are tightly and intricately entwined, moving effortlessly from mirroring the melody to chasing around and playing tag with it, as on ‘Forward Thinking’. On the smartly drilled ‘Garthland Drive’ they wreathe and twine sinuously around each other, whilst ‘Conal McDonagh’s’ initially moody fiddle gets bowled over by some frenzied pipes as they spin off in a rapidly turning pattern.

The interplay between these three musicians is deft and subtle, the tuneset bridging transitions smooth. There can be no doubting the quality of their composition, arranging and playing together. If they’re this good when they’re just starting out together, imagine what Assynt could become.

Su O’Brien

Artists’ website:

‘The One Upper’ – live: