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Claytara Records CLCD1801 

Edinburgh’s Frank McLaughlin is a first-class guitarist who I last encountered back in the mid-90s. Much in demand for his ability to create innovative arrangements, Frank has worked with many players on the traditional music scene and has numerous recording credits as a session player, composer or producer. He regularly performs in a duo with Stewart Hardy on fiddle and the combination is an interesting one. Stewart is a melodic fiddle player (formerly with the late John Wright’s band) and the pair’s shared musical heritage is rooted in Northumbrian and Scottish traditions with the Border styles clearly influencing their compositions and the treatment of same.

The Gift is an intriguing instrumental album of predominantly fiddle and guitar duets, but not as we know the genre. The pace is slower, generally; the tunes are obviously written more as listening exercises than dance tunes, and while the tempo picks up occasionally, it never lifts into overdrive. But then that’s probably not the point, as this duo is about taste and sensitivity rather than gut punching verve and dynamics and the proof is in the listening. Both instruments work as leads to one another; there is no accompaniment to a lead instrument per se. Both players work off one another in a manner not unlike Martin Hayes and Denis Cahill or Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick. But the excitement of the Carthy / Swarbrick duo and the studied intensity of Martin and Denis is not in evidence, instead there is a stately sense of grace and sublimity achieved in each player’s understanding of the other’s strengths and melodic nuances. The Storm Party reels show they can blast away when needed, but the taste factor is always present. The graceful tones of Lord Joicey’s Gift, two James Hill tunes, Factory XYZ, and the closing Brunswick Street display what lies at the heart of The Gift –two musical minds entwined creatively, each gifting the other with their presence and personality, producing music that’s at once emotional, beautiful and graceful – savour.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 127 of The Living Tradition magazine.