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RONA LIGHTFOOT 'Eadarainn (Between Us)' Macmeanmna SKYECD28

This CD is one of the nicest surprises I've received recently. An accomplished singer, piper and lilter, Rona Lightfoot personifies the music of South Uist. Many of the ten Gaelic songs here come from Rona's family repertoire and are still not widely known. The three sets of pipe tunes are all familiar melodies, but Rona's settings and style are uniquely evocative of the South Uist Gaelic tradition. It's hard to believe that this is a debut recording.

One of the most intriguing and impressive tracks on Eadarainn is the trio of lilted pipe tunes, perfect examples of "canntaireachd", the old method of learning the pipes without written music. Rona's vocal renditions of Roderick MacDonald's Strathspey, The Spinning Wheel, and The Duntroon Reel are expertly delivered in what is sadly a dying art. Iain MacDonald's small pipes match the vocals note for note, underlining the close relationship between piping and singing. Another aspect of this relationship is illustrated in the "puirt-a-beul" Gille Bhin set to a well-known dance tune. Rona gives us two "puirt-a-beul" tracks on this album: the other one is a pair of powerful but neglected old reels.

Iain MacDonald's contribution to this recording is worth emphasising. As well as playing large and small Scottish pipes, flutes, whistles, concertina, bodhrn and jaw harp, Iain has definitely excelled in the role of producer: the full and vibrant sound of this album shows the strength and character of South Uist music at its best. The collaborations between Iain and Rona are among the highlights of Eadarainn: Rona's pipes and Iain's Bb flute on Maol Donn, Rona's vocals and Iain's piping on Eadarainn Mr Ruadh, and the Canntaireachd track. Maol Donn is a microcosm of Rona's art, with singing, piping and cainntaireachd all combined.

The backing vocals, fiddle, piano, accordion and clarsach are almost gilding the lily on what is already an outstanding album. I hope we'll hear much more from Rona Lightfoot in future, especially her old-style piping which is under-represented on this CD.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 58 of The Living Tradition magazine.