Calum Macleod catches up with album releases from the deserts of Mali to the Moray Firth.
The Rough Guide To Celtic Music
Following close on the heels of their very contemporary Rough Guide to Scottish Music, this slightly wider ranging tour of the Celtic lands offers a more obvious selection of what that loose term Celtic Music brings to mind. There are flashing fiddles, powerful pipes and spinetingling Gaelic vocals from two of the biggest trad bands on either side of the Irish Sea, Donegal’s Altan and our own Capercaillie.
A pity though that Chantan’s jazz infused take on Robert Burns palls in comparison with Rachel Sermanni’s clear and affecting update of the Bard on the Scottish album, while a couple of other selections fail to bring anything new to the ceilidh.
As listeners have come to expect from such Rough Guide albums, it includes a bonus disc. In this case that comes from one of the most often overlooked Celtic nations, Cornwall, and the band Dalla, but with its mix of English folk style harmonies and Balkan sounding clarinet and tricksy time signatures, there is not much of a family resemblance to their Celtic cousins in Scotland and Ireland.
The Rough Guide To Mali
A more satisfying compilation from the same stable, despite a bonus disc that is rather too one note and repetitive, is this companion piece to the musical powerhouse that is Mali, revealing the variety to be found in one sparsely populate desert nation. No sign of world music superstars Tinariwen, but Terakaft serve up similarly muscular desert blues from the Tuarag north with powerful electric guitar riffs and hypnotic rhythms, and there is an appearance by the founding father of the desert blues boon the late Ali Farka Toure in partnership with Toumani Diabete, the acknowledged master of the kora, the west African harp. Ali’s son Vieux shows the musical legacy moving on to another generation and there are the powerful female voices of Fatoumata Diawara and Oumou Sangare to show Malian music is not just a boys’ club. A fine antidote to Eurovision if you still need one.
Saltfishforty own label
Starting as they mean to go on, Orkney duo Brian Cromarty and Douglas Montgomery kick things off with an energetic Scots-Americana mash-up, launching what sounds to have been a pretty fun night at the Glassel Hall in Aberdeenshire.
Their island background provides a solid foundation for the guitar/fiddle pairing and selected pals weighing in with bass, accordion and backing vocals. That does not prevent them from heading west and confidently making a claim for the roots of western swing and country lying somewhere between Hoy and Papa Westray.
Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Hass
Greentrax Records CUL124
The partnership of Scottish fiddler Fraser and American cellist Haas does not just bridge the Atlantic, it also links the folk and classical world, Fraser’s sweet, free-spirited playing anchored by Haas’s contribution, the whole creating a more textured sound than your typical fiddle release.
At the centre of the album is Connie’s Suite, a commission from Howie Muir for his wife Connie’s birthday, and divided into four parts, each in a different dance style, adding to the variety and adding a little Spanish soul to the mix, just as Hot Club d’Écosse sees Fraser bridging the gap between Niel Gow and Django Reinhart.
None of Fraser and Haas’s detours away from their traditional base sound gimmicky in any way, just a eloquent example of how two fine musicians can push boundaries and explore new territory.
The Lost Map
If Scottish culture is looking to fill the gap left by quirky Scottish surrealist Ivor Cutler, they could do worse than look towards Nairn’s Adam Ross and seven piece (in current incarnation) Randolph’s Leap.
Although closer to the mainstream, Ross shares the same off-kilter view of the world and a way with words that can be charming even when it is cutting – look to Weatherman and its witty verbal demolition of a rival in love: "You said: ‘He’s a barrister, actually.’ I said: ‘Does that mean that he makes coffee?’"
At some points whimsical and introspective, the sound can veer from rough and ready DIY to the orchestral heft of a song like News, but always uniquely Randolph’s Leap.
Another hit from Pictish Trail (Johnny Lynch) and his Eigg-based Lost Map Records, keeping up the fine work he did with Fence across the country in Fife.