Finlay MacDonald,
Finlay MacDonald
(Foot Stompin', 2000)

One of the first graduates of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama's new traditional music program, Finlay MacDonald has produced a good piece of work with this debut recording. The CD features a number of traditional and contemporary Scottish tunes, as well as some of MacDonald's own compositions. He proves to be quite a versatile musician, and provides the listener with a good variety of tempos, styles and instruments in this well-rounded album.

Hailing from Glasgow, MacDonald has toured with the Battlefield Band and Old Blind Dogs, as well as with the Neilson and District Pipe Band. On the album, he can be found playing the Highland and small pipes, flute and whistles. Joining MacDonald are Iain MacFarlane of Blazin' Fiddles (fiddle), Chris Stout of Fiddlers Bid (fiddle, viola), Brian Kellock (piano, keyboards) and Fraser Fitfield (saxophone) of Salsa Celtica, Findlay Napier (vocals), Kevin MacKenzie (guitar) and John Rae (drums).

I am quite impressed by the diversity shown by this young artist. Often solo albums will feature songs or tunes that are all in the same general style, which isn't the case with this one. MacDonald's mastery of several different instruments ensured that the first time I listened to it, I was never quite sure might hear next!

The album begins with a fast-paced set on the pipes. The saxophone (an instrument which isn't often heard in Celtic music, but can be used to good effect) was brought in and made for a rather different sound. I liked this one; however, I almost think that there's too many instruments involved -- something seems a little out of whack. MacDonald continues on the pipes for the second track, joined by guitar and drums, both of which contribute nicely to the overall sound. On the third track, MacDonald picks up his flute for one of his own compositions and a traditional tune. This one had me hopping in my seat with some good energy, MacDonald's expressive flute playing, and the guitar keeping pace.

"Captain McKerrell's/Nigel Richards'" were two extremely catchy tunes which MacDonald wrote for friends. The guitar and pipes complement each other well, and some great pipe/fiddle harmonies can be heard here. The next track starts off a little slower, with a couple of more calming tunes moving into the energetic "Nameless" and "Lord William." I like the percussion in this set, which adds to the overall sound, and the piano -- which isn't heard all that often -- accompanies the pipes well. MacDonald manages to work up a pretty hopping beat with just pipes, drones and a good strong foot tap in "Miss Gow/The Cameronian Rant/The Flaggon," while "Lake Ochrid" slows things back done. This pleasant tune was characterized by a number of different instrumental combinations, well layered and harmonized.

Wonderful instrumental harmonies accompany MacDonald's well-accented flute in "Waulking Song/Greek Street." The second is a catchy, kind of zippy tune of MacDonald's which I really liked. I must say, I really enjoyed MacDonald's arrangement of "The Humpback Whale." Findlay Napier (who, along with MacDonald and Chris Stout, is a member of The Loop) shines on vocals. He has a soft, gentle voice with that soothing Scottish burr that made me want to hear more of the band's work. Brian Kellock's piano playing stands out as well, not to mention the guitar and flute -- I think this had to be my favorite track.

There was a bonus track on this album as well -- a rendition of "Miss MacLeod's Reel" that made me laugh. Not because it wasn't good, though -- just funny. It sounded like it was recorded in a pub, of all places (imagine bagpipes in a pub, if you will), and featured MacDonald playing a rather wacky, speedy version of the reel along with a sort of English pub-style piano accompaniment (for lack of another way to describe it). Very different, and kinda fun!

So, thumbs up for Finlay MacDonald! Fluid and energetic flute and whistles, speedy, well-accompanied pipes, good instrumental arrangements, talented guest artists, and catchy compositions! Now I'm going to have to look for a recording from his band....

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 4 August 2001