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BREABACH - ┘rlar

BREABACH - ┘rlar
Private Label BRE003CD

With an unchanged line-up from their previous recording, album number four sees Breabach at the top of their game so far. The instrumentals are rock solid, the vocals have never been stronger and the material on Ùrlar is really quite exciting, even for an old cynic like me. My only criticism is that the sleevenotes could be printed a bit bigger - but then there wouldn't be room for the photo of the whole band dressed in shocking pink. See for yourself at www.breabach.com

A massive opening set combines pipes, fiddle and whistle over a thundering bass line: jigs by the late lamented Ian Hardie and Duncan Johnston, as well as one of piper Calum MacCrimmon's own, follow the traditional Braes Of Mellinish. Megan Henderson swaps fiddle for voice on the first of two Gaelic songs, Hi Ho Ro Tha Mi Duilich, one of those titles which looks as though is should be a Santa Claus greeting but actually conveys the opposite sentiments, a song of reluctant emigration. In a more upbeat mood, the ancient piobaireachd melody I Am Proud To Play A Pipe is arranged as a modern anthem for Scottish identity, in a style which might ruffle a few feathers but will surely engage a lot more listeners. Bassist James Lindsay wrote Forvie Sands, a gentle air played on fiddle and whistles here. Calum MacCrimmon sings the Canadian railroad song Orangedale Whistle in an understated manner, with fine country-style accompaniment on strings. Piper and fluter James Duncan MacKenzie has written a piece to complement the song, marking the halfway point with mellow flute and vocals.

The second half kicks off with pumping pipes and fiddle, reels this time, the Mike Katz favourite Dookin' For Beetroot and two traditional tunes, finishing with the stirring Fiona MacLeod. Bha Mise Raoir Ar An Àirigh is the second of Megan's songs, another tale of woe, strongly sung with some great flute harmonies. Next comes one of my favourite tracks on Ùrlar, a pair of punchy unpredictable reels by Megan and Calum, taking me back to the rock rhythms of The Easy Club and the great compositions of Jim Sutherland. The Seven Men Of Knoydart, a Hamish Henderson song delivered with spirit by Ewan, is another favourite, commemorating a blow struck against the Anglo-Scots aristocracy, combining humour with righteous anger and, of course, a great pun in the title. Calum obliges with a custom instrumental filler. The final set mixes a jig by Calum, a strathspey or schottische by James Duncan and a classic adrenalin-charged reel by Donald MacLeod to produce yet another favourite track. All that's left is to listen to the whole album again and marvel at the skill and energy of Breabach.

www.breabach.com

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 99 of The Living Tradition magazine.