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PETE COUTTS - Northern Sky

PETE COUTTS - Northern Sky
Fitlike Records FITLIKE012

When Bob Dylan sang “My heart’s in the Highlands…where the Aberdeen waters flow” on the opening verse of his 1997 Grammy winning album, Time Out Of Mind, he was perhaps reaching back to some of his earliest musical influences. That Dylan drew much inspiration from the North-east Scotland ballad tradition has long been recognised, and the area has a rich musical tradition which was at the forefront of the renaissance in British Isles folk music. 

It is heartening therefore to see this strong tradition continuing today with this debut CD from Pete Coutts which takes as its concept tales and tunes inspired by traditional life in North-east Scotland’s fishing and farming communities. Coutts is known as being a fine and eclectic guitarist, but his guitar playing here takes a back seat to an overall band sound and we find him leading his band with a bunch of specially written songs for the album. He digs deep into the North-east Scotland and Doric tradition - but not so deep as to distance the casual listener.

Indeed, the album is a delight and he weaves sounds with the ensemble cast of musicians, layering parts like an orchestra. He has chosen wisely in bringing in a producer - in the experienced and very capable hands of Jonny Hardie of the Old Blind Dogs - to cast light and shade into the proceeding. Hardie also plays fiddle on the album along with a stellar cast including Ali Hutton on pipes and  whistles, Brian McAlpine on accordion and Martin O'Neill on bodhrán. Coutts’ mandolin playing in particular is exceptional and his voice strong.

The tune Allathumpach kicks proceedings off and it is a flowing reel that would not be out of place on a Lunasa album.  The recording is an eclectic and joyful mix. Immensely listenable, it has a potpourri of catchy numbers and inventive musical twists. With the exception of the title track, Nick Drake's Northern Sky, a co-write and one borrowed tune, all songs and tunes are Pete Coutts originals. All are outstanding, and many of the instrumentals alone are worthy new additions to the Scottish traditional music canon.

John Carnie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 118 of The Living Tradition magazine.