Duncan Chisholm has released Canaich, the second instalment in his Strathglass triology, on Copperfish Records. This follows on from Farrar, the award winning first album in the trilogy, inspired by the highland landscapes populated by his ancestors.
In 1988 Duncan Chisholm was a founder member of Wolfstone; within two years the band had become a full time job and one of Scotland’s most talented musicians was at the start of an impressive and productive career. Duncan’s first solo album, Redpoint, was released in 1997; a homage to the great poet Sorley MacLean, taking him in a very different direction from Wolfstone. Among his many projects, Duncan has also worked extensively with Julie Fowlis, making a valuable contribution to her live and studio performances.
Canaich’s brief opener, I Horo’s Na Hug Oro Eile, is soft, melancholy, and comes out of the mist like a voice of the ancients.
Camhanaich air Machair / Captain Carswell introduces James MacKintosh’s percussion and Duncan’s light, lively touch, reminiscent of Alasdair Fraser, is given rein in a pair of tunes by Donald Shaw and Willie Lawrie. Tony Byrnes’ gentle guitar carries the pace expertly throughout.
Duncan’s first self-composed tune on the CD, Craskie, is a sweet; light air in which he visits the area of his family’s farming origins. The pace quickens with Isaacs Welcome To The World, a fiery tune to celebrate an important arrival. There’s another welcome arrival in the form of Rick Taylor’s brass harmonies; soothing and understated behind the fiddle, guitar and percussion. Iain MacFarlane’s whistle plays around with the gentle brass and the full effect is pure joy.
Phil Cunningham’s beautiful ode to the sunrise, The Gentle Light That Wakes Me, mellows the pace again. Hamish Napier joins on piano and, I think, Patsy Reid on viola (someone put me right if I’m wrong!). The viola makes a fine partner to Duncan’s low, breathy fiddle style. Chasing Daylight is livelier and Ali Hutton’s whistle evokes a westward journey building to a full company (strings, brass, percussion & keyboards) rendition of this uplifting melody by Gary Innes.
We’re returned to Gealdom in the traditional lament, Mo Run Geal Og. There are so many versions and variations of this classic lament; it’s refreshing to hear the simple melody given space in an instrumental rendition.
Michael McGoldrick’s The Desert Road picks up the pace again. Rhythmic, and injected with some dynamism by Ross Hamilton’s electric guitar and bass.
Caoinradh Johnny Sheain Jeaic, incorporating Gordon Duncan’s beautiful tear-jerker, Lorient Mornings, returns to Duncan’s haunting, low sound.
Loch Mullardoch / The Oblique Jig starts off with a return to Chisholm country then treats us to Niall Vallely’s minimalist jig. The Exile Reels making their highly energetic way from across the Atlantic are Mike Katz’s The Head Roaster and The Last Mile by Mark Stewart; with the latter given a resonant bass foundation, a gorgeous Gaelic voiceover courtesy of Cliar’s Ingrid Henderson, and a stirring combined fiddle performance by Duncan Chisholm and Iain MacFarlane.
Mar A Tha closes the album as it began, in an ancient, melancholy voice; soothing and sublime.
It’s also worth mentioning the album’s artwork. Jackie MacKenzie has produced a series of paintings evocative of John Lowrie Morrison’s bold, wild highland colours. The combination of dramatic, tempestuous landscapes, swirling seas and the contrasting softness of snowdrops beside fallen rubble (which surely carries a message) compliment the spirit of this album beautifully.
Although Canaich feels mellower, less complex than Farrar, Duncan’s move to the west in his geographical trilogy is just as wonderful a collection of highland music. His soft fiddle tone adds a haunting voice to the music and the inclusion of two other fiddle players in the album is a clear indication of Duncan Chisolm’s justified confidence in his own music and the direction in which he takes it.
(due for release 21 June 2010): Amazon UK