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River Lea Recordings RLR003CD 

You would hope that albums by BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year winners (Brighde won in 2016) would usually be good, and I expect that many readers, in the UK at least, will have already come across extremely positive accounts of Brighde’s work. I’m not about to dissent. For newcomers to the artist, Brighde Chaimbeul is a small pipes player from Skye who has selected a mixture of tunes from the Gaelic traditions of the Western Isles and the Highlands - and from Bulgaria. Her album opens in unexpected fashion, as if to establish a ‘site-specific’ ambience - it was recorded in a church, I won’t reveal more.

On first hearing, it’s slow-burn, mesmerising kind of fare – faster music is present, but it’s never forced or aggressive. The tunes and their performance really got under my skin on repeated listens; there’s a peculiar quality present, not exactly an intensity, more a kind of confidence and thoroughness in commitment to the music. Lau’s Aidan O’Rourke, who recorded the album, provides very subtle accompaniment, complementing the drones of the pipes, while Radie Peat’s concertina also supports rather than usurps the piping. There are several vocal contributions in the canntaireachd style from veteran singer Rona Lightfoot; this element is an interesting symbolic connection with tradition (compare the use of vocal samples on Iona Fyfe’s album).

My one concern is that given the low-key, often hypnotic, feel of the album, coupled with the label’s association with the legendary punk/indie brand Rough Trade, it might end up being used as background music for gatherings of London hipsters. However, for those of us who don’t fit that category, it is simply a distinctive and rather wonderful album.

Paul Mansfield


This review appeared in Issue 129 of The Living Tradition magazine