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Temple Records COMD2107

There is a (rather unsubtle) way of trying to work out a folkie’s age – simply ask them what the earliest line-up of the Battlefield Band is that they can remember! Currently performing as a trio of Mike Katz, Alasdair White and Sean O’Donnell, they’ve come up with the idea of exploring the music shared by the Scottish and Irish traditions. So, lots of scope there, and lots of room for discussion, too.

To mark the fact that, at their closest point, the two countries are only separated by 12 miles, the Batties have invited 12 special guests to help with some of the interpretations. From Scotland come Christine Primrose (Gaelic song), Alison Kinnaird (harp and cello), Jim Kilpatrick (snare and bass drum), John Martin (fiddle) and Mike Whellans (harmonica). Ireland gives us Nuala Kennedy (Gaelic song and flute), Leo McCann (melodeon), Aaron Jones (vocals and bouzouki) and Robin Morton (bodhrán). From the USA, Don Meade (harmonica) and Tony DeMarco (fiddle) and from Australia, Barry Gray (Highland bagpipe).

Put all that lot onto one release and more than a few musical sparks are going to fly, and what’s more, such a list of guests allows a large number of variations in instrumentation, meaning that no two tracks are like each other in arrangement. Every number is, however, superbly performed, with each one sounding as if all the musicians were regular collaborators.

The unifying theme works well, too, with constant reminders of just how much the two traditions owe to each other. Just listen to Christine’s Gaelic translation of the last verse of The Blantyre Explosion (a tribute to the large number of Irish and Highlanders who perished in that tragedy) as an example.

Complete with very informative and comprehensive notes, this is a superb CD.

Gordon Potter

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This album was reviewed in Issue 111 of The Living Tradition magazine.