various artists,
The Captain's Collection
(Greentrax, 1999)

There are few music collections as highly regarded for Scottish traditional music as the Simon Fraser Collection from 1816. These 235 tunes have captured the hearts and imaginations of many a Scottish musician since the collection's first publication. What a joy, therefore, to find twenty-two of these tunes recorded on the new and exciting The Captain's Collection. Unfortunately, due to the political atmosphere of the time, Fraser was unable to include the lyrics to the songs in his collection. The lyrics are reunited with their tunes for six of these pieces, featuring Scottish Gaelic words sung in bright, clear tones and with true Scottish style.

Featuring the vocal talents of Alyth McCormack and Rory Campbell, with Brian MacAlpine on keyboards, Jonny Hardie on fiddle and guitar, Rory Campbell on pipes and whistles, Eilidh Martin on cello, and Aidan O'Rourke on fiddle, the tunes are treated with reverence and skill by these excellent musicians. The arrangements are simple and airy, allowing the beauty of the tunes to speak for themselves. The choice of instrumentation is always excellent.

Particularly effective are the pairings of whistle and fiddle, as on the haunting "Blar Leine," or "Battle of Kinloch Lochy." The fiddle delivery here is particularly moving, backed by a slow cello bass line, and perfectly matched by the whistle, so that it is hard to believe there are two instruments playing. Fiddle and whistle are also used skillfully at the end of the song "My Love Today as Heretofore." Whether playing fast or slow, the two instruments play in unison and harmony with great precision, as on "Keep it Up/Will You Run Awa wi Me/The Periwig." The bagpipe gives a nice texture to the close of this set as well.

Perhaps my favorite set is "The Nuptial Knot/The Favourite Dram," which interweaves the two melodies beautifully. Opening with whistle backed by gentle strings, the "knot" is like a silken strand, gently tied around the "The Favourite Dram," sung by both McCormack and Campbell, with a strong fiddle behind them. At one point the singing stops, and the instruments take off with a strong and orchestral sounding version of "The Favorite Dram," which slowly interweaves back to "The Nuptial Knot."

The string ensemble gives a decidedly Renaissance air to "Place True Love Thine Arms Around Me," sounding much like a regal, courtly dance tune. An airy, low whistle over a low fiddle drone introduces the accompaniment to "Braighe Loch Iall," sung with a delicate touch, as a lullaby, by McCormack. The piano provides a Cape Breton style accompaniment to the fiddle on the upbeat dance set, "Ferintosh/The Bedding of the Bride/The Cross of Inverness/Sean Trews/Annie is my Darling," occasionally adding syncopated rhythm to keep it exciting. A similar set is "Niel Gow's Style/Golden Locks/The Highland Road to Inverness," with the piano accompaniment backing some outstanding fiddle work, featuring striking Scottish ornamentation. This one ends with the upbeat sound of the pipes added to the mix.

McCormack's heartfelt vocals are well accompanied by MacAlpine's piano on "Mairi Bhan Og," giving the song a wistful, sad air. The strings join in, adding sustain and atmosphere to this haunting piece. McCormack's delicate singing of the opening track, "Macleod of Macleod's," soars above the sustained strings, like a bird flying high above a solid landscape. A whistle takes this role at the interlude, with stirring results. Rory Campbell closes the recording, singing the second version of "Sean Trews," backed by what I believe is a harpsichord, with memorable fiddle interludes.

Instrumentation, fine performances and excellent arrangements make this recording worthy of its title, The Captain's Collection.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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