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Great White Records GWR006CD 

Being the fourth solo outing from this young versatile man-of-many-instruments and collaborator with myriad persons, perhaps the most well-known of which is Treacherous Orchestra, Vana is the result of time spent in a retreat near Dehradun, India, close to the Himalayan foothills in 2019. “I had to take a step back to breathe and evaluate. I was beginning to feel burnt out,” says Ross, explaining the need to recalibrate.

Rooted in traditional music, he’s also a composer and almost 100% of the material here comprises own-writes, informed by diverse aspects of his musical influences. Playing pipes, whistles, cittern and bansuri flute and accompanied by members of his Sanctuary Band which includes keyboards player Hamish Napier plus guests including Damien O’Kane on banjo and Cormac Byrne on percussion on board, Vana is something of a mood piece, “designed to be listened to continuously from beginning to end,” as the sleeve says. Sample titles summing up the Ainslie experience – for example, Wounded Forest, Happy Hideaway - may have the tang of hippiedom and they do lay out his stall but this is a robust collection essaying both light and shade over its 14 (inc. bonus cut) tracks.

The swathes of sound are at times subtly contemplative sounding like outtakes from the Local Hero soundtrack, at others (Tune For Everyone) maybe a tad TOO busy (Hope In The Chaos), but there’s no doubting that this is an album of great heart. Ross’ pipes are as sinewy as Hendrix, and Absinthe In Aranya could quite easily have come off a Steely Dan album, such are its fluent guitar/sax melody lines.

The taut rhythm section of Steve Byrnes and James Lindsay anchors all proceedings, and the pulse of this arresting recording still echoes after the last note sounds. Be impressed, be very impressed!

Clive Pownceby


This review appeared in Issue 138 of The Living Tradition magazine