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Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX278

Catriona McKay (harp) and Chris Stout (fiddle and viola) are musicians of the highest calibre, and this fine album is a tribute to their virtuosity. The album is nicely balanced between the traditional (four tracks, eight tunes) and contemporary compositions (five tracks, seven tunes). The duo has a style that seems effortlessly to combine folk, classical and modern approaches whatever is being played.

The opening track, Smugglers, consists of four traditional Shetland tunes and sets a very high standard for the album through the duo's astute musical intelligence, close interplay between delicate harp and lyrical fiddle, and sublimely unhurried pace. At over seven minutes, it is one of the best tunes on a new album this year. As well as a range of traditional tunes, the duo is equally adept at interpreting contemporary tunes by Fraser Fifield, Grame Stephen, Donald Shaw, Michael Rooney and themselves. The title track begins with a McKay tune showcasing the harp and ends with one by Stout in which the fiddle takes the lead. The tunes successfully evoke a seascape, a 'laebrack' being 'the Shetland term for surf'.

Stephen's tune, Turns, sounds very contemporary and, despite perhaps being perhaps a little too long, deserves close listening to reveal all its subtleties as indeed does the whole album. One of the highlights is Shaw's Willie Smith's which brings out the best from the duo while Rooney's Eileen's Lament is a beautiful concluding track. Laebrack is one of the key releases from Scotland of 2005.

Andy Jurgis

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This album was reviewed in Issue 66 of The Living Tradition magazine.