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FARQUHAR MacDONALD 'The Ghost Shirt' Own Label FARQ01

Frenzied fiddler Farquhar MacDonald has been a mainstay of the Skye music scene since he was old enough to get into a session. His high-energy mix of highland fiddle and pipes with contemporary weirdness is a winner at festivals and ceilidhs, and his composing talents are widely acknowledged, but this is his first solo recording. Once you get past the pounding beat and sampled soundscape, there's plenty to recommend this music to anyone who enjoys fine fiddling and well-blown pipes and whistles. And of course, for the young at heart, the "drums & bass" groove is loads of fun too: perfect party music.

The throbbing opening track The Ladies of Minginish takes liberties with a couple of traditional tunes in the style of 4 Men And A Dog, adding self-indulgent vocals and honky-tonk accordion. Next comes Sevens, a pure dance track in the style of Martynn Bennett or the Afro Celts. Track three is the glorious slow air Bob's Tune which reminds me of melodies by Ashley MacIsaac and Phil Cunningham. Finlay claims it as his own, and certainly the second half of the melody seems original. It's followed by the atmospheric march The Perspex Ball, one of several tracks with a slightly new-age mystic feel and an intriguing story.

For pure atmosphere, though, the title track takes some beating. Composed to mark the return of a Sioux artefact after 150 years, Ghost Shirt is an immensely powerful piece which blends the plangent strains of Scottish piping and native American chant. Here, too, the relentless drums and gut-shaking bass are never far away, but this demonic cocktail is a total success. The music takes over, becomes almost hypnotic, and is somehow deeply appropriate for the mixture of joy and tragedy, which it commemorates.

The second half of this recording is more of the same: mystic marches from a Celtic middle-earth, stomping dance tunes from reels to rap, and a breath-taking slow version of The Ness Pipers to finish. The precision quick-fire fiddle on Famous MacLennan is seriously impressive, likewise the controlled piping on the final track. Farquhar's music is fun, fiery and fiercely individual, and at times it's simply beautiful. Ghost Shirt is well worth getting hold of: it'll open your eyes, and perhaps unblock your ears.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 58 of The Living Tradition magazine.