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ROSS AINSLIE - Sanctuary

ROSS AINSLIE - Sanctuary
Great White Records GWR005CD 

This is a very personal album, perhaps too personal at times. It showcases Ross as a piper and whistler, and as a composer, and recounts his journeys both philosophical and geographical. Sanctuary is almost entirely instrumental, with a poetic monologue on the final track which lays bare Ainslie's past struggles with alcoholism and depression, and his new path of hope and respect and control. It's important to be aware of this background, and to appreciate Ross Ainslie's personal fight and hard-won triumph. Sanctuary also stands on its own merits as a fine album, but makes much more sense in context, and is perhaps the first time a folk musician has produced such an overtly autobiographical instrumental recording.

For those few who don't know, Ross Ainslie is without doubt one of the finest Scottish pipers of his generation, in both traditional and contemporary genres. He is also a prolific composer of challenging but catchy new music, much of which has become part of the Scottish session repertoire. This is his second solo instrumental album, in addition to numerous duo and group recordings. The music on Sanctuary is a loosely woven tapestry with many threads, and 10 musicians holding it together. It was all composed by Ross, with a little help, and includes some great melodies as well as some more conceptual pieces. Inner Sanctuary is a nebulous Indian-flavoured introduction, with some great fiddle by Greg Lawson supporting Ainslie's low whistle. Happy Place is a funky hornpipe with typical cross-rhythms, while Sense Of Family is built around the beautiful air, Wee Gordy, written for Gordon Duncan junior. Protect Yourself and Surroundings are both swirling hypnotic whistle tunes with good core melodies, arranged for a full folk band. The simple air, Cuillin Hills, gets an oriental make-over before a full Balkan gypsy caravan sets up camp on Trip To Rajasthan.

Cloud Surfing is a flowing reel more inspired by southern hemisphere travels than distributed computing - probably. Trip To Amman brings back that eastern mystical feel, in both rhythm and melody, and continues smoothly into Road To Recovery which features Scottish smallpipes on Ainslie's tune, Ironman. A final trio of reels on Let The Wild Ones Roam introduces the highland pipes over a folk rock backing for the big finish, fading into a spoken word coda which underlines Ross Ainslie's new approach to life, new strategy, and surely new creativity. Sanctuary is a great achievement, whatever the context, and Ross should feel proud of it as we all enjoy its energy and freshness.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 122 of The Living Tradition magazine.