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Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX404 

I confess that of the two names above the title, I was most drawn to that of the author of the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective books, many of which I can see on my bookshelves as I type this. The name of composer and pianist James Ross registered less with me, though I did seem to have in the back of my mind the fact that he’d had at least a couple of nominations for Composer Of The Year at past Scots Traditional Music Awards.

Well, after listening to this engaging CD, I can safely say that Mr Ross won’t be ensconced in the back of my mind any longer. His musical compositions here are every bit a match for the words of my detective fiction fans’ favourite, who is here writing poems on the Scots people, coast and landscape. Indeed, the music occasionally lifts the words to a greater height than they appear on the liner notes. That said, sometimes images jump off the page at you: don’t you just love his likening the Forth Bridges to a “handshake between shores”?

I was initially disappointed when it became apparent that we were not going to get a great deal of Alexander’s sublimely mellifluous speaking voice, but that disappointment was soon assuaged by the use of singers Michelle Burke and Kathleen MacInnes who both did a fine job and appear almost throughout. We do however hear the bwana from Botswana appear to great effect, reading his introductory words on Miner and Corvette Returning (shown as a lower case R on the lyric sheet, but a capital on the cover). And I wondered was this the reason they were my favourite tracks? Perhaps. But there is probably a more personal reason: you see both registered strongly because of my own family bereavements. The first sees Alexander spelling out how horribly tough and dangerous was coalmining as an occupation. And he is so right: my coalminer father died at just 56 from pneumoconiosis. And the second refers to a friend killed when a “German fish finds its target” (great image): I lost an uncle similarly torpedoed by a “German fish”.

As befits Greentrax, this album is the real deal. Very classy accompanists too, in which the brass section stood out.

Dai Woosnam


This review appeared in Issue 130 of The Living Tradition magazine