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Reveal Records REVEAL014CDX

Coincidentally the exact same length as the latest Lau CD - if it ain't broke don't fix it - this album combines the considerable talents of Baile Atha Cliath banjoman Coyne and Orcadian oralist Drever. Kris does more strumming than singing here, picking guitar and mandolin on the six instrumental tracks, and only opening his mouth for three vocal numbers. The lads are joined by the rapidly rising Megan Henderson on fiddle, as well as established sidemen Calum McIntyre, Eamonn Nugent, Nico Bruce, Simon Bradley and Alan Kelly. Eliza Carthy drops in to duet with Kris on Farewell To Stromness.

The songs on Storymap are not the usual gut-twistingly miserable fare from Mr Drever. In fact, I thought I'd selected the wrong CD when I heard the line “Let us drink and be merry, from all sorrow refrain” - but normal service was resumed in the second verse as Kris bade “adieu to all pleasure”! Farewell To Stromness ends in suitably sorrowful mood, but The Isle Of France has what appears to be a happy ending, and The May Morning Dew is merely maudlin, with minimal details of human suffering and woe. Kris does his best to instil a sense of misery and despair with his ominous and chilling vocal delivery, but at the end of this CD I'm afraid the ballad body count is still a big fat zero. I blame that plucky wee banjo and its Treacherous Orchestra tricks!

On the tunes front, things are similarly sunny and upbeat. Starting with the great old Scots tune Ceapaval and a bouncy little Liz Carroll reel, the chuckle brothers move on to a positively jaunty 72nd Highlanders' Farewell To Aberdeen, played like they're just popping out for a drink, not marching off to get massacred or anything. Even The Battle Of Aughrim, a decisive Jacobite defeat which left 7,000 bloody corpses on Irish soil, becomes a toe-tapper here: not helped, I have to say, by some decidedly catchy percussion. Mickey Finn's Air finally brings a touch of discontented winter from this gloriously sunny son of Orkney, as Kris's finger-picked guitar wrings every drop of sentiment from a rich deep melody. The frost does not linger, though: jolly jigs and rollicking redneck reels restore the joyous revelry, despite Eamonn ditching the banjo and switching to guitar. All is lost with the final set of Teddy Bear's Picnic Jigs, unrelentingly cheery and uplifting, suitable for kids even. Honestly, it's enough to make you smile.

Alex Monaghan


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This album was reviewed in Issue 95 of The Living Tradition magazine.