Blazin' Fiddles,
Fire On!
(independent, 2000)

The Old Style
(independent, 2002)

Here's a retrospective look at two cracking fiddle albums from "Best Live Act" winners at the 2004 Scots Trad Music Awards. There's vibrant, masterly fiddle playing and wonderful harmony on both albums. There's finely picked acoustic guitar from Marc Clement and excellent keyboard arrangements by Andy Thorburn. Blazin' Fiddles set out to show you what they're capable of, and boy do they deliver!

The current band lineup is Catriona MacDonald, Allan Henderson, Bruce Macgregor, Iain MacFarlane and Aidan O'Rourke. Their playing illustrates the distinct differences in texture and tone of the varying Scottish fiddle styles. If you go along to a gig, you really get to appreciate these differences -- for example, MacDonald's Shetland style, O'Rourke's Argyll style, and so on.

Fire On! is peppered with great tracks. There's a great version of "Kilbrandon Jig," and MacLennan's "Cascade Set" is superb, featuring "Dolina MacKay" as the intro. "Greenland Set" has a striking Shetland influence that's beautifully paced. One of my favourite tracks is "Waulking Songs," which incorporates tunes like "They Stole My Wife Last Night" where, although no percussion is used, you really sense the beating of the cloth.

"The Midge Factory" is excellent; the swirling, quickening fiddles capture that sense of irritation felt when trying (and failing) to swat the wretched insects!! On "Marnie Swanson of the Grey Coast," the fiddle is quite simply exquisite. "Lochaber Gathering," "Mrs Robertson's Set" and "The Mouseskin Set" (all by contemporary composers including Nollaig Casey) continue the vibrant sound, and "Waltzes" gives the band the ideal opportunity to slow the pace a little. A great album!

The Old Style is an enhanced CD containing biographical information and band photos, and offers more in the way of contemporary and self-penned tunes. The band obviously had a ball at the photo shoot, as the guys somehow ended up in womens' clothes and MacDonald finished up in top hat and tails!

There are many current gig favourites on this CD. "Bullocks" launches the album with a lovely tune in the puirt a beul style. "Flora" includes 200-year-old tunes found by Aidan O'Rourke in a handwritten collection handed down to him via his godfather. "Sir James" is a vibrant pair of tunes, starting with Gordon Duncan's "Sir James of the Bings," then by Liz Carroll's "Johnny D's." "Catalina" is a lovely waltz, followed by "Athole Brose," a set of lively strathspeys, where the pace quickens marvellously. "Three Steps Forward/Liz Carroll's Slip Jig" are beautifully played by all.

And so it continues: "Shieling in the Braes of Rannoch" is a sublime tune from Captain Simon Fraser's collection. "Swedish" is another gig favourite, beginning with MacDonald's exquisite "The Joy of It!" from her album Bold.

This is first-rate music -- catch the Fiddles live if you can!

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 29 January 2005

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