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ALAN REID & ROB VAN SANTE The Rise And Fall O’ Charlie

The Rise And Fall O’ Charlie

Red Sands RSCD002

This contemporary concept album boldly challenges conventional wisdom and other unfortunate notions surrounding the story of the “Bonnie Prince”, who (as we all know) in 1745 secretly sailed to the North West of Scotland to raise an army and wrest the throne of Britain back to the Stuarts… Charlie’s personal timeline is flawlessly traced by Battlefield Band-man Alan and long-term collaborator (and virtual Battlefield-er) Rob in a compelling sequence of music that takes in fresh new settings of Jacobite songs from the “accepted tradition” – many of these written not all that long after the rebellion itself, and including a couple from the Gaelic poet Alasdair MacDonald – rounding them out with five exceptional new compositions of Alan’s which venture into hitherto uncharted territory exploring different facets of the story and in typically uncompromising fashion both address romantic preconceptions and scotch the odd myth concerning Charlie’s true personality.

Especially impressive in this regard is Where Can We Turn?/The Lowland Soldier, on which Charlie cuts an increasingly pathetic figure, and the ensuing The Boy In The Man, which poignantly explores his unacceptably abusive behaviour towards one of his mistresses. Alan and Rob realise their vision by augmenting their own proven musical expertise with excellently judged, accomplished and expressive instrumental accompaniment from Alasdair White, Ian Fairbairn, Susan Miller, Mike Katz and Wendy Weatherby, while the latter and Maeve MacKinnon share ancillary vocal duties (Maeve’s performance of Mile Marbhphaisg Air An T-Saoghal is particularly fine, and Wendy’s renditions of Alan’s originals written from a female perspective are equally peerless).

The more well-known selections prove essential to the narrative, and generally come off well, although I find the opening call-to-arms of Sound The Pibroch a touch mild-mannered. But even the over-exposed Will Ye No Come Back Again escapes banality in Alan’s sensitive reading, and although I’ll never quite be sold on The Skye Boat Song, tasteful though Alan’s treatment is, I did rather like Alan’s swinging soft-shoe-shuffle take on Charlie He’s Ma Darlin’, which features some spry jazzy fiddle work from Ian Fairbairn. So don’t fight shy of this release simply by reading the tag “concept album” – it’s both an engrossing listen and a well-considered and artistically rewarding piece of work.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.