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ALAN REID & ROB VAN SANTE - Rough Diamonds

ALAN REID & ROB VAN SANTE - Rough Diamonds
Red Sands Music RSCD004

Any fan of Scottish folk music will be able to take comfort just from the billing of this new album, for this combination of artists gives a true 100% guarantee of quality. Reliability is assured just at the mention of Alan’s faultless pedigree as musician and songwriter – not least in his many years’ tenure with Battlefield Band – and Rob’s unshakeable reputation as sympathetic musical partner and excellent engineer (rearrange those qualities in whatever order you wish!). And what’s more, any music they produce is sufficiently easy on the ear and yet provides more than enough in the way of subtlety to gently stimulate the listener’s sensitivities.

And so it proves with their latest offering, which mixes Reid originals with some absolutely prime choices from contemporary folk song. The five Reid originals all have in common the enviable qualities of singability and catchy choruses, but they also have substance and originality amidst their accessibility and memorability – what a gifted songwriter Alan is! These five contrasted songs are cannily dispersed throughout the disc for maximum effect and each is blessed with a skilled musical arrangement that fully complements the mood and style of the lyric. Two of them are concerned with local industry (Barrels Of Gold deals with Wick’s whisky distillery and decline in herring fishing, while the disc’s title song looks back nostalgically at Lothian’s once-thriving coal industry). Then there’s a wistful, reflective portrait of the charming village of Carradale, the stirring narrative of The Orcadian (aka John Rae, Hudson Bay Company doctor and explorer) and the rollicking tale of Mad Maggie Murchieson and the “wee devils”. Even among these gems, however, the album’s centrepiece is a standout track: Roslin Castle, an instrumental piece by 18th century Scottish composer James Oswald, blessed with a truly lovely arrangement. Finally to the covers: for a start there’s John Conolly’s outstandingly evocative Passing Places, which is complemented by top-notch renditions by Alan and Rob of two cornerstones of my own repertoire, Last Trip Home (jointly penned by Reid’s former colleagues Steele and McCusker), and Paul Metsers’ classic Farewell To The Gold. Ted Edwards’ potent imagined dialogue between The Coal & Albert Berry also comes off well here. The disc’s lone Robbie Burns number, Red Red Rose, is included for its status as favourite in the duo’s live performances.

Anything to criticise? Well, perhaps Rout Of The Blues doesn’t quite stir the blood for those of us used to the Dransfields’ benchmark account, but that’s only in comparison with the excellence of the preceding 11 tracks! Oh, but before signing off this review I must give honourable mention to the selective but entirely apposite guest contributions from fellow-musicians John Martin (octave fiddle, cello) and Stewart Forbes (tenor sax), which dovetail so well with Rob’s extensive multi-instrumental prowess and Alan’s ever-skilled keyboard work. What a fine record; and one that just has to be heartily recommended.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.