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VARIOUS ARTISTS The Clear Stream - Guitar Music From Scotland And Beyond CDTRAX268

What a recording - a gathering of the cream of Celtic guitarists, ten years in the making - it's an amply-filled compilation of Scottish tunes, with some from France and Spain thrown in. There can't be many albums that unite the late, great Tony Cuffe with Dick Gaughan, Jack Evans, Brian McNeill (whose idea sparked this excellent CD), Rob MacKillop, Tony McManus, Alain Genty, Soig Siberil, Innes Watson and William Jackson. It's an album of pure craft - the interpretations are always honest, often understated, and never ever flashy. As with any compilation, there are 'moments of pleasure' that make huge impact, alongside the gentler, 'pickier' interpretations - and a few totally unexpected surprises. This one delivers!

It's thrilling to hear young RSAMD fiddler Innes Watson playing guitar (is his main instrument really fiddle?). His 'Da Day Dawns Set' is a stunner. Jack Evans' 'Gille Callum Set' speaks powerfully to me too, its bluesy, plodding start setting up a storming finale - the raunchy twang of his Sobell guitar is utterly irresistible. I'm impressed by the McManus/Genty/Siberil sets, which lend Mediterranean ambience to the album - Genty's electric bass playing (especially his solo part on 'Enfin Set') is the perfect foil to the dexterity of his co-instrumentalists. Dick Gaughan's selections stand tall too - his rounded, resonant plucks putting your speakers to the test beautifully.

Tony Cuffe performs on four tracks, and it's fitting that he opens and closes the album; the last word quite rightly belongs to him. It's so easy to see why his intuitive, crafted playing/composing continues to inspire musician/music lover alike. His picking on tunes like 'My Home Town' and 'The Voddy Girders' is as bright as a diamond, and a pleasure to listen to. These were sadly amongst his last recordings.

The whole album offers excellent clarity and richness of sound, and all the selections reveal the masterly, individual interpretative skills of the musician. Peter Haigh has done a brilliant job with mixing/mastering the album. An excellent recording, to be savoured like the best wine.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 60 of The Living Tradition magazine.