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Lorimer Records LORRCD04

Album number three from this international quintet of mostly Celtic musicians is a solid and pleasing selection of music. The melodic combination of fiddle, flute, harp and accordion is skilfully underpinned by guitar, with creative basslines on both box and clarsach. At the core is a shared understanding of Scots and Irish music, spiced by Canadian and contemporary Edinburgh infusions. With names such as Mairi Rankin and Ailie Robertson on board, and five years on the road together, this much was to be expected.

What I had not anticipated was the emphasis on vocals which follows from the title Flash Company. While all five members of The Outside Track do their bit as backing singers, only Norah Rendell gets the lead vocal credits, which makes her the focus of more than half the tracks here. The Canadian habit of combining songs with tunes is beautifully applied to the title track and The Whitby Maid, both benefitting from compositions by the late great Jerry Holland. Nevertheless, Norah's voice claims the lion's share of this recording. These two songs, plus The Hawk And The Crow, show Norah to be a fine singer of traditional ballads. I am less convinced by her hayseed dixie take on The Mountain Road and her chosen version of False Knight On The Road, while Inisvaddy Annie seems to be too challenging without cover from the rest of the band.

It's not that Norah doesn't take full part in the instrumentals, or that the song arrangements don't make good use of The Outside Track's possibilities. Maybe the intention is to foreground the lead singer, a successful approach for the likes of Dervish and Altan: if so, Norah has found herself a fantastic backing group. I'm not the biggest fan of singers, so I could be biased, but I'd like to hear more from the prodigious instrumental talents in this band. Mairi's fiddle cuts through cleanly in several places - The Translantic, Colin Rankin's and her own lovely slow jig Kelly Peck's for instance - but Ailie and Fiona don't surface so much from the mix. The Body Parts Set is the obvious exception, and worth a mention in its own right: cramped buttocks and multiple chins are treated to thundering harp strings and crisp accordion. The anatomy of this recording could have coped with a couple more examples from this side of The Outside Track. I guess that will have to wait for album number four now.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 93 of The Living Tradition magazine.