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THE CHAIR - Orkney Monster 

THE CHAIR - Orkney Monster 
Folky Gibbon FGCD025  

It's been a while since their memorable 2013 CD, The Road To Hammer Junkie, but this third album from The Chair hasn't lost any of the energy and drive that are the hallmarks of their Orkney Stomp sound. With eight band members, swallowing at least two other bands whole, the title of Orkney Monster seems entirely appropriate. Fiddles, banjo, accordion, guitar, bass and drums - a lot of drums - give The Chair a huge sound when they want it, but their music can still be graceful at times. Well, gracefuller at least!

Kicking off with a kooky wee 2/4 version of Seneca Square Dance, The Chair switch sinuously into Dónal Lunny's twisted Tolka Polka, and then a low grinding reel by monster fiddler Douglas Montgomery. About half the material here is written by band members, with the rest chosen to suit Orcadians' natural taste for a combination of Nordic, American and Celtic music. A pair of Scandinavian tunes take us from delicate fiddle duets to dark trowie tunnels. The bittersweet melodies of Wee Davie and The Last Miller O' Bea feature the guitar of composer Gavin Firth, before a few jigs and reels push the tempo up again on a mix of tunes by the other monster fiddler Kenny Ritch and a few more notable string-strokers.

Ireland gets a nod with the punchy pipe march Rose In The Gap, learned from Belfast boy wonder John McSherry, and then there are the songs. Two of them: Tim O'Brien's Walk Beside Me, holding up the Country & Irish banner, precedes Tom Waite's tangled weave on Shiver Me Timbers, a rock band arrangement driven by Andrew Gifford's electric bass. Turn The Handle is a complete change of pace, a slow reel by Brian "banjo" Cromarty, leading into his spiky bluegrass anthem, The Work Wife. The continental-tinged waltz, Margaret Davidson, restores a contemplative mood, but it can't last: Orkney Monster was always going to end on a tempestuous set of dance tunes, and Festival Reels doesn't disappoint. A full-on recording with huge scope and boundless energy, I highly recommend this one.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 138 of The Living Tradition magazine