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Cellar Records CRSFF0517

This wild and wide-ranging band from Orkney is stripped down to its core of fiddler Douglas Montgomery and singer/guitarist Brian Cromarty here, but the duo manages to belt out their big band sound when required, thanks to their multi-instrumental talents and some fancy mixing. With the addition of a couple of backing singers, you'd hardly know this was a two-man venture. Saltfishforty still spans swing, swamp rock, singer-songwriter ballads and showpiece fiddling in addition to their own excellent compositions. Ronnie Cooper's classic reel, Millbrae, becomes a brilliant redneck breakdown in these hands. Gerry O'Connor's Jig, named for the Dundalk fiddler, sits between two wonderful recent compositions by Irish Americans Joanie Madden and Mick McAuley. Among a dozen tunes by Brian and Douglas, the ones which stood out for me were the waltz, Cruikie's, Montgomery's reel, The Boss, with its punchy backing, and Cromarty's trio of bird-related stomps.

At times on the instrumentals it's hard to appreciate Brian's guitar mastery: somehow it is overshadowed by the other elements in the mix, you have to listen really hard to get the full force of his delicate but deft melody lines. The whole range of fretted strings comes across in the songs: bold and bluesy for the folk rock Odin Stone, crisp and cheeky on You're Tired Of Me with honky-tonk tuning, low and ominous for the tragic Jack Snipe. Luedecke's Tender Is The Night and Stott's Woe Is Me may do more for you than they did for me, or maybe I just need more time. Brian's air, Miss Eileen Linklater, took a while to grow on me, whereas Fiona Driver's Reel For Dave Fleetwood hit the spot on day one. It goes without saying that the musicianship here is superb and, as its name suggests, Bere has that unique Orcadian vitality which comes of collecting everything that's washed up on your shores and spending six dark months of every year working out how best to use it. The combination of island eclecticism and ingenuity certainly pays dividends on this CD. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.