Éamonn Coyne (Trecherous Orchestra; Salsa Celtica) and Kris Drever (Lau; Drever, McCusker, Woomble) have been collaborating on tradition-based music of the highest calibre for some time now. Honk Toot Suite in 2007 was widely applauded and an appearance at last year’s Celtic Connections to launch an EP (read our live review), along with Megan Henderson (Braebach), went down a storm. The duo have been busy in the studio again, under the watchful eyes (and gifted ears) of Mattie Foulds at Mobile With A Home, and have emerged with another full CD – Storymap.
The album opens with a brace of melodies that introduce immediate warmth to the proceedings – Ceapaval. The lively pace soothes rather than dazzles, inviting the listener to relax and enjoy as it gently winds towards a joyful toe-tapper. And with the standard set so high Storymap continues to offer warm, engaging and perfectly executed arrangements of traditional airs, jigs and reels collected by Drever, Coyne and an impressive array of guests.
As on last year’s Parcel O’ Rougues EP, Megan Henderson joins the lads on fiddle and her contributions are just as significant and enjoyable here. There’s a further memorable fiddle to enjoy courtesy of Alan Bradley on Marches & Reels, offering ample evidence of a scant regard for energy conservation. Goat Walk opens with a soothing air before building up to a galloping banjo classic (Abe’s Retreat). The comparatively sedate Kitty O’Neill’s Champion Jig supplements the guitar / banjo foundation with an irresistible combination of fiddle, bassy backbeat and salty accordion. There’s a wonderful, wholesome sound throughout this album. Careful inclusion of double bass (Nico Bruce) percussion (Calum McIntyre, Éamonn Nugent), accordion (Alan Kelly), fiddle, mandolin and tenor guitar fill out the sets – Pot Luck and Teddy Bears Picnic Jigs exemplify this spirited, rich sound.
Although the main focus is on guitar, banjo and very fine tunes; there are songs to enjoy too. First of these is Farewell To Stromness. The sleeve notes tell of a traditional song collected by the Orkney Song Project, although Peter Maxwell Davies has also laid claim to the melody. Whatever its lineage, the song’s presence on this album is considerably enhanced by the inclusion of Eliza Carthy’s unmistakeable harmonies. May Morning Dew is presented as a slow air rather than the more familiar waltz. After the plaudits (rightfully) piled upon Lau for their year’s work, Kris Drever reminds us that he’s just as comfortable, and accomplished, at delivering traditional songs as he is at pushing the boundaries, in The Isle Of France. A great song perfectly suited to his melancholy tones.
The music on Storymap is traditional; and although the whole collection delights in an expansive approach to the arrangements, the heart of the album itself couldn’t be more rooted. The musical tradition of collaboration between like-minded souls is Storymap’s strongest asset. The work as a whole comes across as friends gathered in celebration of the music, without egos or agendas. The result is a collection that reaches out warmly to the listener and extends an irresistible call to join in the fun.
Review by: Neil McFadyen