Whether it’s in the studio or on the stage, Mairearad Green and Anna Massie have formed a musical partnership that delivers the very best performances time after time. Their latest release, Best Day, is their third album together and firmly establishes them as one of Scotland’s most talented mutli-instrumental duos. The pair first performed together as teenagers and their music exudes the kind of ease and warmth that can only come from a lasting friendship and a confident musical empathy.
There’s been a progression through each of their three, wonderful albums together. From a straight-up ‘live in the studio’ approach for their eponymous debut, to adopting a more complex use of layered instruments in their 2013 release, Doubling; to the inclusion of two songs in Best Day. Despite increased use of technology, however, the sound they produce is still every bit as natural as it is in their captivating live sets.
Best Day gets off the ground with Mairearad’s flashing fingers on accordion, in a traditional tune paired with one of her own reels, The Red Poppy. With Anna’s dynamic guitar accompaniment it’s a confident and immensely enjoyable opening. The fast pace continues when Anna takes to the fiddle for a set of lively Cape Breton reels, Jerry and Otis; two from Jerry Holland and one from Otis Tomas (and there’s an interesting tale about the origins of Anna’s Otis Tomas-built fiddle).
Songs have often been a feature of their live shows, and now for the first time Mairearad and Anna have included two songs on an album. Dougie MacLean’s She Loves Me (When I Try) is beautifully delivered by Anna’s natural, soothing vocal. From the quality of the performance, you’d never guess it’s the first time this duo have turned to song, and there’s another fine vocal contribution from Mairearad with Always Will, as learned from Nanci Griffith.
Both songs bring a gentle touch to the album that’s echoed by some equally soothing instrumentals. In Musical Flowers a delightful pair of waltzes on accordion feel the benefit of Anna’s deft guitar touches before she takes over the melody. And then there’s the relaxed and sleepy Julia Simon’s. Bottle Island harks to Mairearad’s love for the Summer Isles and it’s steady pace soon picks up for a Mike Vass composition (unmistakeably) in which her accordion really starts to sing, alongside Anna’s fiddle. When Anna’s banjo joins in for Aiden O’Rourke’s Best Day Of My Life the party really gets warmed up.
Mairearad has been playing the highland pipes since her days at High School and on Best Day we’re treated to two excellent examples of her ability. First, there’s a pair of marches in MSR, including a first class, martial guitar rhythm from Anna. The pairing of Mairearad’s pipes and Anna’s fiddle closes the album on a more lively note; with a well known set of Pipe Reels.
What Mairearad and Anna are all about though, is putting the joy into music, and this music is certainly joyful. The Botanist is a charmer from the very first notes of layered accordion, then Anna’s banjo joins in for the second jig. The pairing remains for a spirited reel – A Lovely Bottle Of Botanist (pun intended!). A set to make you smile, and a very broad smile at that. It’s immediately followed by the equally engaging Banjo Set, where I could swear the trans-Atlantic influence even extends a touch of The Supremes!
Whatever surprises you find in there, of this you can be sure – one listen and you’ll be hooked. Mairearad’s ability to coax a multitude of voices from her accordion and her deft piping, with Anna’s relaxed and incredibly skilful ability on guitar, fiddle and banjo single them out as musicians of the highest calibre. Add to this their natural intuition and shared sense of fun and you begin to realise just why they’re building such a sizable following.
As well as playing with the Poozies and the Tune Book Trio (with Ross Ainslie and Simon Bradley), Mairearad has her latest solo project, Summer Isles and is in much demand as a session artist. Meanwhile Anna has enjoyed recent success with Blazin’ Fiddles and their new album, North and has also been busy touring with Bella Hardy. With several projects on the go at any one time, just how Anna and Mairearad manage to write, rehearse, record and tour together is a mystery – but we’re all very lucky that they do.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Best Day is Out Now
Order via Mairearad and Anna’s Shop here
Upcoming dates: Jan 24 at The National Piping Centre, Glasgow