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Canterach -Canterach” - KRL Records CDLDL1303

Canterach is one of those bands made up of people who are well known from other bands. In this case, they're all fine musicians from well respected bands and the result is first class. Rod Paul and Steve Lawrence played together with The Iron Horse, and singer Ross Kennedy was on that band's mould-breaking debut album. Iain MacInnes is a member of the reformed Ossian, but here he cuts loose in a manner more akin to his wild days with the Tannies. Alistair McCulloch is a relative newcomer with barely a fistful of previous albums: his fine fiddling has been a mainstay of the group Coila for several years.

It's no surprise that there's a strong similarity with early Iron Horse recordings. The catchy tunes, the high-energy dance music style, and the low-key songs are clear pointers to Canterach's pedigree. Less predictable are the reminders of Battlefield Band: the front line of pipes and fiddle, the ability to pick winning combinations from thousands of tunes, and the slightly less than serious approach to arranging and presenting traditional material.

Forty-seven minutes sees eleven tracks, evenly split between songs and dance tunes, with a super slow version of the classic march Magersfontein making up the numbers. On the instrumental side, it would be hard to improve any of the material here. Take track 1, a nice short intro before a pair of sparkling reels, then a heartstopping change into an even more sparkling reel, then a light jazzy interlude before a snazzy fiddle solo, and then everyone's back for a final gallop which Alistair wins by a neck.

There's another slow instrumental track which is worth a mention. Two slow reels, one by the young lamented Shetland fiddler Michael Ferrie and the other a traditional pipe tune, are both given a thoughtful treatment here. This track could easily be from an Iron Horse recording. In sharp contrast, but equally good, is the moothie magic of guest Fraser Speirs: it pops up at various times throughout the CD, but it's particularly noticeable on the second half of track 8.

Of the five songs on this recording, by far the most cheerful is the ballad Johnny O' Braidislea: only seven people die in this one, and six of them are English. The other four songs are truly miserable: a lament for the Clydeside shipyards, a lament for generations of Scottish emigrants, a lament for one emigrant in particular, and a lament for the Jacobite cause. Ross Kennedy has chosen some of the most maudlin songs in the tradition, and written two tear-jerkers of his own. All this weeping and wailing certainly provides a respite from the uplifting instrumentals, but a straightforward love song or a ballad with a happy ending wouldn't have gone amiss. It's hard to comment on Ross Kennedy's singing: he portrays misery very well, but I've no idea what he can do with other emotions.

Incidentally, there's a wee digital hiccup - what software engineers call a "feature" - about 40 seconds into track 9 where Ross suddenly echoes the word "plight" in the left channel. Otherwise, this recording is very clean and well worth hearing - but if you're feeling at all depressed you might want to skip some of the songs.

Alex Monaghan

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