Jennifer & Hazel Wrigley,
(Geosound, 2001)

"Skyran," in old Orkney norn, means "to glitter brightly." However, in the 21st century, it is also the name of a jewelry collection designed by an Orkney artist, as well as the title of the latest album by twins Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley. Although they are still under 30 years old, it is their fifth album as a duo -- 2001, the year of its release, marked their 10th anniversary as recording artists.

After completing a round-the-world tour, both sisters longed for Orkney. This album features material that somehow concerns Orkney: written by Orkney musicians, inspired by Orkney, etc., and thematically based around the Picts, who, according to the Wrigleys, "were thought to be little painted people who disappeared without a trace" and often mixed up with the fiddle-music-loving trowies (think trolls). It's the trowies who lured fiddlers into their howes (mounds) to stay and play as years passed by in the mortal realm. However, it's a loose thematic link. While it's an enjoyable story, the Pictish element seems more inspiration for the original compositions than an actual plot line. For example, there are songs named after folkloric elements. "The Auld Bow" is named for an area where "the trowies are known to hang out." "The Trowie Dart" would put you under their spell, and "The Whorl Reels" are after an ancient Pictish design found on a spinning whorl.

Fiddler Jennifer also doubles as composer of the bulk their original material. Sister Hazel accompanies her on guitar and piano, and occasionally pens a tune, but it's Jennifer's fiddle that's given the solos on this release. Even on Hazel's composition, "The Auld Bow," it's Jennifer's fiddle that stands out in the foreground whilst Hazel's piano serves as mere accompaniment in the background. "The Dingshaw Dancers" is the closest Hazel gets working together with her sister in musical balance, and it's clear she's skilled on both piano and guitar. Perhaps more Hazel solos might be offered in the future?

Besides collaborating with each other, the sisters have worked with an Orkney artist who has designed a range of jewelry based on the Pictish theme, with pieces named after tunes from the album. It's interesting to find a flyer for this jewelry included with the CD booklet -- not what one would expect, even from traditional-style musicians. However, the sisters record on a small label, and the artist is a regional designer. Perhaps it's not so unusual that they would support each other; if other artists can hawk t-shirts and baseball caps, I suppose brooches and necklaces aren't that unusual.

What Skyran does accomplish, however, is to showcase two sisters who have an eye and ear for finding and composing tunes that can show off their musical collaborations and their home. Other Orkney musicians back them up on double bass and accordion, and an extra pianist and fiddler join the sisters on one track each. None of the music is traditional, but it all has the feel of older times. Even the last tune, "Orca," which opens as a moody air but segues into a sad almost off-tune whale's call, still can maintain the sensation of wandering on those northern islands at twilight. It's the music that "glitters brightly" here.

- Rambles
written by Ellen Rawson
published 11 January 2003