Fred Morrison,
with Jamie McMenemy,
Up South
(Lochshore, 2003)

Let us be quick about it and eschew all dilldallyness: Up South staggers with excellence. Entirely instrumental, it consists of 10 pipe and low-whistle cuts (sometimes comprising two or three tunes and ranging from 3:30 to 11:15), two-thirds originals, one-third traditionals. Without a scorecard you can't really tell them apart, the question being ultimately of largely ethnomusicological interest. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Fred Morrison, who now lives in Glasgow, grew up in a famous piping family from Uist, in Scotland's Western Isles. His teacher was his father. As an adult Morrison became part of the Scottish folk revival and collaborated with Capercaillie, Ceolas, Clan Alba and Tannas as well as recording two solo albums. On the current project he has hooked up with Jamie McMenemy, bouzouki player, former Battlefield Band member and founder of the Breton-Celtic band Kornog. McMenemy provides brilliant accompaniment (and Tony MacManus adds guitar to a couple of cuts), but the star of the show is Morrison.

That show starts with a couple of Morrison compositions played on Highland bagpipes, "Jamie's Tune/Up South," which will definitely get your heart beating fast. If this were on guitar, it would be hard rock. It doesn't just rock, though, it positively gallops, and Morrison plays it clean and crisp. On the next cut, "The Mistress of the House/Jean's Reel," he turns to the uillean pipes for some lively dance music. The slower, more reflective "Passing Places/Universal Hall," done on the low whistle, has a sort of Andean ambience, intended or otherwise. With "The Ladies from Hell/Carlos Barral of Oviedo/Lochaber to Argyll," he's back to the Highland bagpipes and a stout, magnificent sound. ("Ladies from hell" are what World War I German soldiers called their kilt-clad Scottish counterparts.)

Throughout the disc Morrison alternates between fast and slow pieces, moving easily from jigs and reels to slow airs, all the while exhibiting taste and precision, never giving vent to a note's worth of excess. It all ends fittingly with an extended solo-piping piece, the early 18th-century "The Earl of Seaforth's Salute," originally a product of a forgotten clan war but now, in Morrison's reading, a celebration of the eternal Scotland.

The title, Morrison writes, refers to what the people of Uist call the "south end of South Uist." I don't understand it either. No matter. Mysterious geography aside, the music there is as enchanting as any music anywhere, including all those places where "up" and "south" are never used in the same sentence.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 11 September 2004

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