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MARTYN BENNETT "Grit" Realworld CDRW114

The late folklorist Hamish Henderson, to whom this album is dedicated, bequeathed his vinyl collection to Martyn Bennett. On hearing two of this album's tracks, he uttered the words: "What brave new music." This is perhaps Bennett's most passionate statement to date - a profoundly moving fusion of archive recordings (spanning half a century) with state of the art electronica. It's the product of Newfoundland-born Bennett's love of dance/club sounds and his desire to share his adopted country's tradition with a wider audience. What makes this album truly remarkable is that it was produced at a time of immense personal difficulty for Bennett. He's been fighting ill health for some time, and Grit seems a fitting title for his labour, which must have provided a powerful personal focus during dark times. During his illness, Bennett became alienated from and eventually destroyed the musical instruments he'd played with such skill for years - perhaps ultimately a beneficial, cathartic act for him.

This is an album on which Bennett plays scarcely a note (save for a viola improvisation on one track), yet his musicality startles you at every turn. Those readers who normally recoil at radical treatment of traditional material should keep an open mind. This album brings little known and precious recordings of Scottish travellers, folklorists and Hebridean singers to a modern audience, and these voices (including Flora MacNeil, Sheila Stewart, Lizzie Higgins, Annie Watkins, Jeannie Robertson, even Skye bard Calum 'Ruadh' Nicholson) are allowed to shine through with crystalline clarity.

This powerful music brims with an astonishing sensitivity to tradition. However, it's not an easy listen - its edgy, urgent but very lyrical instrumentation is built around electronic samples/string arrangements, loops, beats and many other sounds. On the exquisite and gentle Why, the sounds of running water and birdsong accompany the distinctive voices of Flora MacNeil and Calum Nicholson. The intensely moving Liberation sets Psalm 118, sung in Gaelic by Murdina and Effie MacDonald, and recited in English by Michael Marra, to the tune of Coleshill. It's a powerful testimony to Bennett's personal faith. Chanter is a dynamic pipe-inspired dance tune, opening with the words "You play the melody on the chanter" and incorporating wonderful puirt a beul by Mairi Morrison - with pulsing drum beats. And the contribution of the voices of the Scottish travelling community cannot be understated. Sheila Stewart sings movingly of the persecution of the Roma, and Davie Stewart tells an allegory-laden tale of family dysfunction.

I'd argue that this is the most fascinating album to emerge from Scotland in 2003, and its importance in celebrating the Gaelic and traditional Scottish cultures is profound. It's exciting, moving and ultimately very satisfying music.

Debbie Koritsas