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Private Label SMOK02CD  

Already a familiar name on the Scottish folk scene, having released their first album shortly after their first gig but then settled down slightly for this second recording, Project SMOK is built around the prodigious talents of whistle-player and piper Ali Levack from Dingwall, in-demand guitarist Pablo Lafuente who probably hails from somewhere a bit more trendy, and drummer Ewan Baird who could come from anywhere but is always there when needed. Levack is fresh from triumph at the 2020 Scottish Young Trad Musician competition, and on this showing his win was well deserved. Bayview mainly features low whistle, recalling the sounds of Deiseal, Flook, and even Lúnasa, but transposing them to a contemporary Scottish folk repertoire. The opening medley sets expectations perfectly: a dreamy Prologue backed by fingerpicked guitar and delicately scrambled eggs (shaken not stirred) drifts into the rhythmic swing of Viewbank, a swooping reel written by all three band members.

Ali Levack's dexterity and control on low whistle is prodigious, vying with the best of Ainslie, McGoldrick and their ilk. Overtones, ornaments and open fingering over three octaves produce a joyful and ever-changing sound which sustains the whole album. The driving Arisaig, the gentler title track, the compelling dance rhythms of Clashnarrow and the almost-lullaby air Ceitidh's all show different aspects of Ali's playing, not forgetting the vital but more muted contributions of Lafuente and Baird. There are a few guests scattered through Bayview, in particular the distinctive vocals of Megan Henderson over Levack's piping on one track and the concertina of Mohsen Amini on another, but this CD is essentially a trio effort, right up to the last track when some guy called Edwyn Collins muscles in on vocals for a live cover of his very strange song, A Girl Like You. Never heard of the chap myself, but he makes a reasonable job of it, and Project SMOK fits around his performance like the consummate professionals they obviously are.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 134 of The Living Tradition magazine