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AN DHÁ - Celtivation 

AN DHÁ - Celtivation 
Private Label

Scottish music on fiddle and cello is becoming so mainstream that I barely blink when I get an album like Celtivation, but it's worth bearing in mind that 20 years ago there was none of this. I blame Alasdair Fraser for encouraging it. although there's been no shortage of cellists willing to up-spike and come over to the Folk Side: Ron Shaw, Natalie Haas, Wendy Weatherby, Abby Newton, Mike Block, Ariel Friedman, and now Sarah James. At one of Alasdair's recent music camps, if there'd been a tug of war between the fiddlers and the cellists it would have been a close competition.

So accepted has this fiddle-cello combination become that An Dhá are able to take the tradition for granted and branch out, experiment, innovate. Despite their name, the musical roots of this group seem to be firmly Scottish. This is their second album, following a 2015 debut inspired by the island of Skye, and it contains Caledonian classics like Culloden House, Miss Abercrombie and Jenny Dang The Weaver, but most of An Dhá's repertoire is original, written by Sarah or by fiddler Jaya Hanley: the improbably-named Supertigers, the more understandable House On The Moor and Tartan Fields, and the ominous Silence Of The Chickens, soon to be a major motion picture perhaps?

James' 19PP has a cinematic urgency to it, a Jacobite fleeing down the glen, while the improvised Procrastination is not surprisingly more laid back. Hanley's air, Imagination, gets a whimsical start, cello and fiddle setting off almost independently, before joining as one to finish the piece appropriately together. The tension between Georgian parlour music and manic jazz is probably clearest on the opening track, which reminds me strongly of Fraser and Haas, but also of Freeman-Fox and the other Haas girl, oldtime fiddler Brittany. Celtivation is a bit like Fiddle Fever meets Jane Austen and they all sit down to tea and chilli scones. Fiery at times, but mostly quite genteel. Will their next album be more folky, or closer to the picnic scene from Red Dwarf? Watch the website! 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.