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ALISTAIR McCULLOCH "Highly Strung" Fellside FECD154

This is an excellent debut album - fresh, fiery, and full of fun. In a little under fifty minutes, Alistair McCulloch covers a wide range of Scottish tunes old and new, plus a few Irish and American favourites. Alistair plays fiddle and whistle, and may be familiar to you from the band Coila. He's also been around the Scottish massed fiddle scene for a while, but this is definitely his first solo album! Track 1 sets the tone for a CD which could be subtitled "Never a Dull Moment": two well-known traditional reels interleaved with two of Alistair's own compositions, played with energy and style over a sensitive backing. Admittedly, there are a few scrapes and squeaks, but that's what you expect from a real fiddler! Track 2 is a total contrast, a lovely gentle slow air composed by Alistair for his mother and arranged for pastoral strings. A couple of heavyweight pipe marches follow, with cuts and gracenotes galore, and then a ragtime fiddle showpiece, with Alistair's own amusing variations. With barely a pause for breath, we launch into a medley of old Scots tunes given a very traditional treatment, and then the mood changes again to a Newgrass/Cajun waltz with a side-order of dobro. Next comes my favourite track, the mesmerising air 'Dargai', followed by one of the big strathspeys and a frivolous little reel by ace piper Terry Tully - smashing stuff with a full band sound. And so it goes on: hornpipes, more strathspeys, another beautiful slow air (which Alistair says was inspired by a stream, but just happens to share its name with a whisky distillery - which would you go for?), a couple of classic old-time fiddle toons, and finally a set of catchy jigs ending with a Scottish piping classic. Alistair handles all of these with ease and flair, ably assisted by the likes of Dougie Pincock, Ross Kennedy and Stevie Lawrence. The bottom line is, it's a cracker. More power to his elbow, indeed! Every track is a goodie, and the eight McCulloch compositions sit happily beside some of the best tunes of the last few centuries. Definitely worth the price of a few pints, I'd say, and there's likely to be a lot more good stuff from this lad in the future.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 40 of The Living Tradition magazine.