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RANT - Reverie 

RANT - Reverie 
Make Believe Records MBR6CD

Two fantastic fiddle ensemble CDs have come along recently, both second albums from some of the finest fiddlers in northern Europe. Ladies first: RANT is a quartet of superlative string-scrapers which includes the Reid sisters from Shetland, Lauren MacColl from the Scottish west coast tradition, and her east coast counterpart Sarah-Jane Summers who has spent the last few years in Norway. Reverie builds on their eye-opening debut with more rich harmonies, new compositions, and the addition of a couple of vocal tracks with guest singers Julie Fowlis and Ewan McLennan. Only a couple, though: this recording is still over 90% fiddle, and no other instruments were harmed in its making.

Reverie starts with one of Bethany Reid's compositions, the lively JT's, a tricky 6/4 rhythm teasingly arranged by RANT. It's followed by one of several beautiful slower pieces, Miss Drummond Of Perth's Favourite Scotch Measure from an eighteenth century collection before Scotch was measured at all. The ladies burn through Strathbogie Toast before another slice of Bethany brilliance, her Dad's 60th Birthday March, a tune with enough swagger to accommodate a fair measure of Scotch. RANT's other prolific composer, Lauren MacColl, contributes the enigmatic 5 Months, paired with the great Shetland reel, Wha'll Dance Wi Wattie, and adds her slow jig, Happy Day In June, to the old Shetland air, Hyltadans, which in these hands becomes almost a Bach cantata.

Speaking of singing, the second half of Reverie starts with a Shetland version of the melody known as The Parting Glass set to words by 18th-century Gallowegian poet, John Lowe, stunningly arranged for four fiddles. Ewan McLennan's vocals are followed by Ewan MacPherson's evocative tune, The Orca, and then by the Skinner air, Geanie's Lament, displaying the different moods of RANT. Julie Fowlis sings Thug Thu Chonnlach As An T-Sabhal, a piece of puirt a-beul from Barra: I found this arrangement a wee bit too classical, and would have liked more bite and beat from the fiddles, but it is superbly played, sticking with the singer like gulls with a herring boat. My favourite track on this CD may well be the two Skinner hornpipes, Fire Away and Frank's, full of fun and humour, with almost a fairground feel in the oompah fiddle accompaniment. Bethany, Jenna, Lauren and S-J relax a bit here, playing around with the timing, and it's wonderful to hear. The final track on Reverie is a re-imagining of the Icelandic hymn, Fyrir Mig, Jesú, Poldir Pú - a poignant piece with bags of atmosphere. This album will stay fresh for a long time, so buy early for Christmas! 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 114 of The Living Tradition magazine.