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Highlander Music HRMCD020

This Perthshire outfit has won a few awards recently, and alongside their classic five-piece line-up they have an unusual lightness of touch and an upbeat repertoire which has "lift" written on it as large as the lobby of the Pitlochry Hilton. Fifer Jim Lindsay leads on piano accordion, with a strong second box in the enlightened hands of David Hume. Ron Kerr's fiddle doesn't often cut through, but when it does, as on Peter's Jig or Sandy's New Chanter, it sparkles. Piano, bass and drums complete the line-up, nothing out of the ordinary except their music. The choice of tunes is broad, embracing the light and lyrical rather than traditional rhythmic heavyweights. This works well for reels and jigs: Tam's Rockin' Fiddle, Bel Fiore, The Morayshire Reel from Paul Machlis and the neatly turned Rock Valley Jig bounce merrily along. That's not to say that there aren't any driving fiery sets on Reel Of The Puffins. Andrew Rankine's Let the Hackles Rise kick-starts a rollicking rake of jigs, and the brilliant Glasgow Reel tops off a trio of forty-bar reels by Muriel Johnstone, Jerry Holland and Gordon Shand. Compositions by Skinner, Gow, Rennie, Jim Johnstone, Gordon Patullo and Alasdair Fraser link arms with older melodies to fill 14 tracks.
When it comes to strathspeys, Jim Lindsay seems to subscribe to a gentler approach than I am used to. There are four big sets at this stately tempo, accounting for well over a third of the 70 minutes on this recording, yet I still miss the bite of a good old highland strathspey. Marshall, Gow and Skinner are all represented on at least one track, but their attack is blunted somehow. At other times, lyrical melodies replace the sharp strathspey rhythm, a fashion started many years ago with Autumn In Appin and the like, which is fine and dandy but needs to contrast with the fierce syncopation of Tullochgorm or Caber Feidh. The closest to highland ferocity on this CD is Phil Cunningham's Seud nan Ceud Bliadhna, played as part of a strathspey and reel medley. You can't please everyone, of course, and the music here will find favour with most fans of Scottish dance music. There's a light classical selection, a Burns song medley, another song medley finishing with the familiar sound of Kate Dalrymple, and a delightful fantasy on The Black Bear to finish. All excellently played, all eminently danceable, and all in the best possible taste.
Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.