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MIKE VASS - Notes From The Boat

MIKE VASS - Notes From The Boat
Unroofed Records UR004CD

If you've heard Mike Vass' previous album, In The Wake Of Neil Gunn, you might understand why he's continued his nautical adventures. This recording was made on board a 36ft Dutch sailing boat at various points in a journey from the Clyde Sea to the Canary Islands and back again. Along the way, Vass composed and collaborated with numerous friends. The resulting ten tracks, mixed aboard the boat, include background noises and snippets such as radio messages, children's chatter, pots and pans, and, of course, the wind and rain and ropes and rigging. The whole effect is atmospheric and surprising, intimate and engaging.

Fiddler and singer Gillian Frame plays on the Nordic reel, Last Day. Innes White plucks guitars and mandolin for Ewing, not a prison block but an Edinburgh student house. Wed gracefully marks the marriage of Mike's twin sister Ali, and features Anna Massie on guitar and fiddle. Although the arrangements are new, and each piece is composed by Mike Vass, not every composition is a novelty: Bright Kirk is built around his well-known jig, Cavers Of Kirkcudbright, written for a couple with an unusual name, and not for a group of speleologists as is often thought. Pianist Ali Vass plays melodica on this version (no room for a piano on the boat).

The sauntering slip-jig, Teen, has Mairearad Green on accordion, the Quebec-style brandy, Inver, features fiery fiddling Manxman Tomás Callister, and harpist Corrina Hewat ripples through Voices. Conal McDonagh's low whistle breathes life into the familiar air, Coming Home, and Duncan Chisholm takes a bow for the penultimate Paul And Emma's. Innes Watson's fiddle and guitar rock the boat on the final Arthur's Jig. Mike adds his own fiddle, guitar, mandolin, melodica and kalimba on various tracks, providing the warp for a fabric woven by his collaborators and waulked across the oceans. This is a fascinating CD: the only thing missing is a whistling kettle, essential for both sailors and musicians. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 125 of The Living Tradition magazine.