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ROSS & ALI Symbiosis II Symbiosis SYMCD001

Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton won the best duo category at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. They first met in the Vale of Atholl pipe band when they were twelve years old. They were both taught by Gordon Duncan, one of the most influential Scottish bagpipers of the last 30 years, whose enthusiasm for playing pipes with other instruments they both inherited, and they have gone on to play in many leading Scottish folk bands including Treacherous Orchestra, Salsa Celti- ca, and Shooglenifty, both becoming multi- instrumentalists.

Following on from the success of their

debut album Symbiosis, this is Ross & Ali’s sec- ond album of new material, consisting almost entirely of their own original compositions. Revolving around skilfully-played guitar, cit- tern, whistles and bagpipes – the bedrock of this duo – the arrangements also include a full string section and the extensive use of synthe- sisers, drum kit and bodhran. The line-up is: Ross Ainslie (highland pipes, whistles, cittern, banjo); Ali Hutton (highland pipes, whistles, acoustic and tenor guitar); Duncan Lyall (moog and synth); Martin O’Neill (bodhran and drums); Steven Byrnes (drums); Patsy Reid (all strings); and Gus Sicard (snare drum).

The result is a much bigger sound than before. Skilful acoustic instrumental playing is elaborated and developed into bold, funky, adventurous arrangements that sometimes transform into full-on folk-rock like Treacher- ous Orchestra on acid.

Mink is fast, percussive and syncopated with bluesy bagpipe-playing. Kings has funky rhythmic whistle and pipes driven by drums and percussive guitar, washed over with lush strings. Goretree combines melodic acoustic guitar and whistle with crystalline electronics. Action is full-throttle whistle-playing with strong percussion and electric guitar accom- paniment, that builds into a massive folk-rock climax with bagpipes and drum kit. Grandad’s is a lilting slow air on whistle, acoustic guitar, fiddle and pipes that segues through a percus- sion-driven whistles duet to culminate in a full-tilt ensemble crescendo. This is music that rewards being played loud. Wind down the window and pump up the volume! Paul Matheson The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers

MERCEDES PEÓN Deixaas Altafonte ALTIB 0180

It’s eight years since the last album from Gali- cia’s Mercedes Peón. That one, Sós, was what prompted her big move into solo perfor- mance in which she controlled powerful elec- tronics while playing her iconic pandeireta and gaita, with her magnificent voice always riding above and through it all.

Joined by the voices and instruments – guitars, accordeon, piano and bass – of a small team, she continues that path, with her use of beats and electronics more developed, and it reflects the work she’s been doing sam- pling found and created sounds, particularly the industrial clangour of the working activi- ty and metallic installations of a shipyard.

The prevailing massive, dense machine onslaught and strident vocals that are the first impression are, as the album proceeds and the listener attunes, punctuated and humanised by her voice moving from strident to more intimate, lighter-voiced, even caressing sec- tions, such as in the bouncing skittishness of Cabo De Min, or the closing Olores Perdidos where she’s accompanied just by the fluid piano of Nacho Muñoz, who’s been involved in all her albums. Indeed, as she told me in an interview for fRoots at that time, it was his unavailability for most of the period she was making Sós that was the spur for her to figure out how to use the technology herself.

All the songs are her own, and much of the sound is massive and urban, so on the face of it there’s no actual traditional music here, but the reality is that the melodic shapes, the sound and styles of her singing, the harmonies and the rhythms of pandeireta couldn’t be anything but Galician, and what she’s making is in many essential ways as strongly connected as ever with the song tra- ditions that shape Galician music today, borne and passed on to a large extent by generations of the hard-working, child-rais- ing mothers and grandmothers of the villages and towns. Present-day Galicia draws strength from that chain of being, while the subjects of her lyrics, in Galego as ever, are of today’s world and her activist place in it – feminism, language, love, a recurring image of a wall. Andrew Cronshaw


Avant L’Orage Genticorum 609015645499

This is the sixth album in the eighteen years this Québécois trio have been playing togeth- er and their first since their live album of 2013. There has been one change in their line-up since then with the flute and piano- accordeon player Nicholas Williams as the newcomer. He replaces Alexandre ‘Moulin’ de Grosbois-Garand and it makes for a smooth transition that Alexandre is here as a guest musician. Once again the lovely cello playing of Natalie Hass makes a guest appearance, but only on the final track.

Having a flautist making a considerable impact is one of the qualities that make Gen- ticorum distinctive from other top bands playing this music and Nicholas makes his mark early in this album. On the second track he is featured playing tunes written by the other two and he uses some of the jerky tech- niques that West of Ireland flute players use, particularly on the reel, injecting odd notes louder than others and playing with a marked breathiness. On the following track he plays much more smoothly as he accompa- nies the singing of Yann Falquet and we can hear what a great voice he has. The instru- mental tracks are nearly all underpinned by that distinctive rhythme à pieds and tradi- tional tunes sit happily alongside those writ- ten by the band with Yann’s Valse Loken being the one you find yourself humming afterwards.

Fans can relax knowing that there has been no real change of direction and that the quality and thoughtfulness of their arrange- ments has deepened since their last album.

It has been said before but at times the listener has to pinch themselves to remember that it is a trio producing this big sound. Vic Smith


Don’t Think About Tomorrow Tonight Sapsuckers Music 191924465317

Nikki Grossman and Joe Hart, aka The Yel- low-Bellied Sapsuckers, are back with anoth- er album of original acoustic country music. Harmony singing that is right on the edge, yet hits every note. Songs that have all of the heartache the genre requires, but done with wit, not false emotion. If George Jones were still alive and heard Fools Were Made To Be Broken he could sing the hell out of it. The songs, instead of revealing the schmaltz the titles may suggest – Come on Back, Break My Heart; Don’t Think About Tomor- row Tonight; Empty Gestures and so on – reveal just how these guys not only have a way with words but they can also attach them to a good melody.

Humour is suggested and delivered a

few times, Lonely At The Bottom and Nashville Hero, the ultimate country music biography in a song, leading the way. A great line “I made more on my last song that you’re gonna make your whole life long”. If you need more, in addition to their exemplary harmony singing, they each handle the lead singing equally well, with Grossman’s delivery on the title track and Empty Gestures match- ing the quality of her fiddle playing. Original material performed and recorded in a man- ner that makes me smile with pleasure every time I play this CD. John Atkins

Photo: Micah Robinson

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