Allan Henderson,
Estd. 1976
(Macmeanmna, 2004)

Not only is this one of the best Scottish albums of the year, it is one of the finest Celtic music albums I have ever heard. All 12 tracks are a remarkable achievement by Allan Henderson, who plays on an impressive range of instruments: piano, fiddle, whistle, keyboards, pipes and blues harmonica. It is quite a shock to find out that Henderson himself is playing so many of the instruments, as the information is not included on the sleeve notes (although it has since been made available on the Internet).

The album is a thrilling mix of traditional and contemporary tunes, many of the latter written by Henderson. It is almost impossible to pick out highlights as the whole album is so consistently good. The opening "Strathspeys & Reels," though, is one of the best starts to an album you can hear anywhere. The upbeat piano and jaunty fiddle combine inspiringly through a range of enticing tunes that gather pace. Ross Martin's guitar makes it mark here too, as throughout the album, and Iain MacDonald's flute comes in for the last of the five tunes -- almost like an afterthought in a pub session.

"A Tune for Morag" is an excellent example of Henderson's high-quality composition. There is a very contemporary feel both to the tunes themselves and the piano's interpretation of them. Henderson's piano playing is indeed a defining feature of the whole album, which has put this instrument into the heart of contemporary Scottish folk music. "Slow Air" is another extraordinary composition full of beautiful piano music. As on the first track, MacDonald adds flute. You can only marvel at the consistency of the brilliant musicianship.

"Slow Air & Reel" is characteristic of the whole album's cheerful nature. This number includes the tune "Ashburn House," celebrating Henderson's family home so poignantly. If a highlight of the album can be selected then I would choose "Lochaber" inspired by Calum MacLean's book The Highlands. The "Lochaber Theme" used three times during the track would make great film music, such is the success through which it evokes a sense of place. After some deceptively simple piano, whistle and keyboard are added too, along with guest singer Margaret Stewart's heartfelt Gaelic vocals: it would have been good to have heard more from her on the album. Her singing is complemented by the lovely clarsach of Ingrid Henderson with MacFarlane playing melodeon.

If you want to hear another example of why Scottish music is at the forefront of so much that is exciting and groundbreaking in contemporary Celtic/folk music, then listen to this album.

- Rambles
written by Andy Jurgis
published 4 December 2004