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Copperfish Records CPFCD007

Surely the smoothest of Scottish fiddlers, Duncan Chisholm has won more awards than most and released an enormous range of recordings, from his early days with Highland rockers Wolfstone to several more recent works evoking the beauties of Strathglass and the landscape around his native Inverness. Now he offers us a collection of pieces inspired by Sandwood Bay, in the far north-west corner of the Scottish mainland, as Chisholm describes it, “the finest and least accessible beach in Scotland.” It is a place of beauty, of majesty, with inspiring vistas and varied moods, ever changing yet unchanged by millennia. At least, so it seems in this music, new but steeped in ages past. The yearning Pilgrimage with its plangent high and low fiddle parts, the funky folk of Haze Across The Sun introducing low whistle and Irish pipes from Jarlath Henderson, the joyous revel of Dizzy Blue when the clouds lift and the air is filled with reflections, all convey the character of this remote place.

Snow On High Ground is a fact of life in Sutherland from September to May, perhaps all year round, but here it has an extraordinary beauty. Its elegant piano chords lead into the menacing Burial Clouds and Perfect Storm, two 7/8 compositions among the many complex rhythms on this CD. Little is straightforward here - arrangements include a dozen instruments and layer upon layer of harmonies - yet Duncan's music speaks clearly through the complexity, communicating the special nature of Sandwood. Donald Shaw and Hamish Napier share the composing credits, as well as contributing keyboards and flute. A new wave of fiddlers including Patsy Reid, Megan Henderson, Fiona Hamilton and Greg Lawson provide string parts along with Su-A Lee's cello, Ross Hamilton's guitar and Martin O'Neill's drum. There's a wonderful reprise of Fraser Fifield's Dark Reel from his 2002 Honest Water album. But this recording is dominated by Chisholm's fiddle: the control of The White Bird, the power of Islands On The Edge, the sweetness of the final air Bagh Seannabhad. Highland music has rarely been in better hands.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 123 of The Living Tradition magazine.