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Rory Campbell and Malcolm Stitt - "Nusa"- Vertical Records VERTCD059
Mairead Nesbitt - "Raining Up"- Vertical Records VERTCD060

Vertical records are now beginning to find their stride, some ten albums after their debut collection. These two releases are peppered with trademarks of the label. Both are by young, talented Celtic artists, featuring their own style of traditional fusion music. Each includes some eye-catching artwork and like most releases from the label so far, both feature Vertical's mentor Donald Shaw on keyboards.

Mairead Nesbitt is a talented young musician with an already impressive CV, which includes being a former all-Ireland fiddle champion and a stint in Donal Lunny's Coolfin. Mairead also comes from a classically trained background, reflections of which are echoed on this CD. The quality of her technique is obvious from the first few strains of 'Skidoo', the album's opener. "Raining Up" is a joy from start to finish; Colm O'Foghlu's sympathetic production brings out the best in her playing. Even as the arrangements become more demanding, the album maintains its natural flow. A three-movement piece 'Within the Blue Suite' combines Celtic, Spanish, and classical themes to close the album, a fitting end for a fine body of work.

Campbell and Stitt follow the 1999 collaboration 'Field of Bells' with a CD of eclectic, funky folk. I think I'm right in stating that Nusa is the first disc to include Scots traditional artists crediting a musician (Bryan Jones) with playing 'decks'. The album begins with an assault of technological bravado, with hip-hop style scratching, eventually developing into a whistle tune. But the creativity is sadly short lived, and by track three, 'Hunt', the pair reverted to type. I'd like to say that I was on the edge of my seat throughout the album, but despite a few interesting moments, Nusa is ultimately a disjointed album lacking focus. Both musicians have much to offer traditional music. I think they've more to learn when it comes to integrating modern technology into their sound.

It may be wrong to expect too much from Vertical, indeed it's easy to think that Donald Shaw's Midas touch will never fail. But as standard bearers for Progressive folk, I hope the label avoids falling into the trap of becoming predictable.

Keith Whitham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 46 of The Living Tradition magazine.