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CATRIONA MCKAY - Love In Secret 

CATRIONA MCKAY - Love In Secret 
Glimster Records GLMCD5 

You probably know Catriona McKay from her duo work with Fair Isle fiddler Chris Stout, Olov Johansson and other partners, her many recordings and live concerts (remember those?) with Shetland band Fiddlers' Bid, or even her previous solo releases. This album is different. It still pushes the boundaries of solo harp - and everything here is played by Catriona on her Starfish harp, with no double-tracking - but it starts from a familiar place, and takes us somewhere entirely new. There are melodies and counter-melodies, harmonies and disharmonies, rhythms and cross-rhythms imprinted on themes old and new, fully developed or delicately sketched in the air.

Love In Secret draws mostly on the Irish tradition, taking its centre cut from Bunting and Carolan. The first eight tracks form a suite, giving this CD its title, and the first track shares this title for an almost overture or foreshot of the distillation to come. The Gathering Of The Swell hints at stormy times ahead, pumping energy into an old air, giving it a dark edge, presaging the sepulchral selkie-song of Listening Below The Surface. This piece reminds me of a German sauna complex where the music could only be heard under the water - but that's another story. The rest of the Love In Secret suite plays on old Irish melodies, from Kitty O'Brian to Carolan's Concerto, at times very traditional, at others quite bold and modern, but always perfectly poised and dazzlingly executed. Another delightful McKay composition wraps up the suite: Summer Is Coming.

The final three tracks here are almost a microcosm of Catriona's repertoire: the improvisation Harp Like Hell which is as much a technical exercise as a tune, the wild Whisky Reels combining old and new material from Shetland with some exuberant technical wizardry, and finally the feints of Champagne And Laybourn's as the spirit has its final flourish on a funky little number variously known as Kohler's Hornpipe and Pachelbel's Frolics, reworked brilliantly here, combining a shot of American swing with modern technique and superb showmanship. That's Catriona McKay for you.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 137 of The Living Tradition magazine