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Private Label RDCD13

No arguing with the quantity here - well over an hour of music - and the quality of Rachel Davis' second CD doesn't disappoint either. This album contains 11 tracks of tunes and four songs, with Rachel providing fiddle and vocals, joined by several illustrious friends young and old. The very start of Turns seems slightly shaky, but everything else is consummately assured. You only have to listen to Live Off The Floor, a set of demanding reels with only guitar accompaniment, to recognise that Rachel is a world class fiddler. She's powerful too, tackling big seven and eight minute sets of strathspeys and reels like a veteran. Her repertoire spans Cape Breton, Scots and Irish, ancient and modern, and she has a few touches which are just better than anyone else's versions. As with many young musicians' releases, the tune names here are sometimes sketchy - Tracey Dares' Castlebay Scrap has split up, and Phil Cunningham's Hut On Staffin Island has inexplicably multiplied as well as undergoing some melodic changes. But who cares about little details in the notes, when the music is this good? Variety is not a strength of the Cape Breton tradition, but Rachel does leaven the usual diet of reels, strathspeys and jigs with a moving version of Neil Gow's air Coilsfield House on viola, as well as a swing version of the American hornpipe Blackberry Blossom.

And of course, there are those four songs. Spanish Bay and Over The Mountain fit loosely into the New Country genre, plaintive singing and heartbreaking lyrics, with arrangements somewhere between Bluegrass and Bruno Mars. Rachel handles this material well, but I prefer her Gaelic love song A' Chruinneag Ìleach - The Maid Of Islay, a well-loved Hebridean melody. Her light alto is strong enough to rise above five male voices for the modern shanty Banks Of The Seaway by David Francey, set to a variant of the old Greenland Whalers tune.

Friends join in on some of the fiddle tunes too: Darren McMullen's fine banjo adds fizz to Scrappin', and all four other members of Còig join Rachel for the final storming set of reels from Scottish, Irish and Cape Breton composers. So actually there is a lot of variety on this recording, and solo fiddle CDs don't come much better. With such high quality and quantity from a young fiddler who's still on the rise, Turns is likely to be on my 2013 Top Ten list. Check it out: should soon have more information and samples.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.