Yawn, another bloody brilliant album from a duo, Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, who can do no wrong. So why should you get excited? Are you completely daft, man? This is Aly Bain on fiddles and Phil Cunningham on damn near everything else (accordion, whistles, cittern, piano, keyboards, mandolin) with more than capable assistance from Malcolm Stitton acoustic guitar, and bouzouki and Stuart Nisbet on acoustic guitar, dobro and pedal steel. How can you not like it? Do you ‘ave not a touch of magic in your soul?
Just look at the contents: ‘Captain Carswell / Mrs MacDonald of Dunach’; ‘Enviken’s Waltz’; ‘The Voice of the Borders’; ‘Michael Coleman’s Jig / The Gingerhog’s No 2 / Give Me A Drink of Water / Jiggy Jig’; ‘The Colours of Cape Breton; Mrs Crawford’s Favourite / James Cameron’s March / Drew Tulloch’s Magic Cupboard / Lord Gordon’s Reel’; ‘Boo Baby’s Lullaby’; ‘Eleanor of Usan’; and a rousing set ‘Western Lilt / The Harsh February / Far From Home’ to finish it out. What more do you want? Oh, you want me to tell you what this fine album? OK, let me grab a Double Chocolate Stout from Young & Co’s Brewery from the Green Man Pub to wet my whistle as this is a tale that will take some time.
Let’s start off by sayin’ that all you really need to know is that Aly Bain, the Shetland Islands’ most revered fiddler and founding member of the Boys of the Lough, is jamming with Phil Cunningham yet again! These two have three other superb albums: The Ruby, The Pearl, and Another Gem, all originally released on Aly & Phil s own label, Whirlie Records, and rereleased on Green Linnet in the States. ‘Tis a sweet sound that these accomplished musicians make together!
Now I should caution you that is not FHL (Faster Louder Harder) music. As Judith Gennett noted in her superb review of Another Gem: ‘There is a good mix of styles within the range, but there are more slow and gentle pieces than on some other Scottish albums, which may contain only one or two slow airs or waltzes. Though certainly a ‘gem,’ Another Gem might not be the choice to keep a driver awake.’ Nor someone late at night reading a book or watching the sun come up. What it is a music that is truly graceful, a rare commodity in this age of Celtic music that’s more often than not so up tempo that it hurts.
The lead off — and title of the album — tune was written by Phil for Northumbrian pipes, but the liner notes say he couldn’t wait for this sprightly air to played by Aly. It’s a tune that could be paired with ‘Da Day Dawn’ off Aly Bain and Ale Moller’s Fully Rigged album which blends the very, very best of Nordic and Scottish fiddling. Aly’s fiddling style is so distinctive that his playing is easily recognizable no matter who the composer is.
Another set of tunes originally written for the pipes, Scottish Highland ones in this case, follows: ‘Captain Carswell / Mrs MacDonald of Dunach’, both written by Pipe Major William Lawrie. Other highlights for me included a waltz, ‘Boo Baby’s Lullaby’, which has the legendary Fiddler Jerry Holland, and ‘Enviken’s Waltz’, a Swedish piece Aly learned from fiddlers he knew there.
Convinced yet that you want this CD? You are? Very good. Now let’s head down to the Pub gain to see what the Neverending Session is up to as I hear that several Swedish fiddlers are sitting in tonight…