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Eigg Records 041401

Something old, something new - isn't it always so? In the case of Eigg native Damian Helliwell, the old is not so old. His music seems to spring from the funky jazzy rootsy whimsy which ran through Edinburgh in the eighties and spawned groups such as The Easy Club, Ceolbeg, Cauld Blast Orchestra, Jock Tamson's Bairns and most notably Shooglenifty.

Helliwell's mandolin and tenor banjo, and his extended band on fiddle, bass, piano and percussion, sounds uncannily like early Shoogle a lot of the time, just waiting for Angus R Grant's fiddle to come sweeping in and wreak its own special brand of mayhem. Phi, Ask The Sphinx, Fear Of Askaval and Chessmaster Vlad are driven hard by mandolin leads which recall the playing of Luke Plumb and formerly Ian Macleod. I thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic resonances - or maybe it was the tuning to a low pitch of A=432Hz, another unusual feature of this CD.

Tadhgan Steps has a more contemporary feel, starting off with a playful reel reminiscent of The Road To Errogie. This more traditional sound stays with the banjo through Princess Neribehee and The Last Minute. It's hard to keep the percussive sound of banjo or mandolin in the foreground of slower pieces like Jen's or Trean's, so the melody falls more on Eilidh Shaw's fiddle or even Andy Thorburn's piano. The final two tracks show both sides of Damian Helliwell's music, a rushing joyful energy in The Slovenian and a soulful beauty in Awkward Phrase. With complex rhythms and missed beats, snappy tunes and sumptuous arrangements, there's a lot on this recording to justify the idea of "metta", the wish for the happiness of others. Damian's compositions fill the album with life and emotion and his colleagues contribute equally, including Jenny Hill on double bass and Donald Hay on percussion. Well worth a listen.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 102 of The Living Tradition magazine.