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The Rough Island in question is one of the remotest of the Isles Of Scilly, St. Agnes. Although situated some 28 miles from the mainland of Cornwall, it’s blessed with a vibrant working community, among which we find four musicians (John Elliott, Joe Keelan, Piers Lewin and James Sills) in love with the place and its people – and in tune with the rhythms of Celtic culture. Noting that the island itself has no surviving indigenous music, the RIB’s unstated mission has likely been to carve its own response to the place from out of borrowed and adapted traditional Cornish music, writing their own stories, tunes and evocations of landscape. They’ve sustained and refined their approach over the course of four years and On All Sides is their third full-length CD. It combines original and traditional material to create a cohesive personal vision that manages to be thoroughly contemporary.

Most successful of the 11 tracks are those which use a bold and particularly imaginative blending of timbres and rhythms, like the reel and march medley (track 3) and the whistle-led portrait of Sevenstones. One or two other tracks may take a while to get going, like First Day On The Mainland, whose lazy opening reel is almost too leisurely and outstays its welcome but then motors along nicely when the second tune kicks in and the pace quickens. As for the disc’s vocal selections, the driving, populist Sea Shahnty and Pulling A Rope (the latter featuring five of the redoubtable Spooky Men’s Chorale on backing vocals) probably come off best, while the gently waltzing Midsummer Bonfire scores by being altogether more ruminative; the band’s idiosyncratic cover of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al works too, perhaps against the odds. However, the incorporation of spoken word into The Garden On Gugh (an evocative poem – but why is its author not credited?), though a brave move, doesn’t seem to accord too easily with the flow of the music.

All told, the Rough Island Band produces a commendably full sound, one which makes good use of light and shade and creates space around each instrumental line; they also benefit from the charismatic fiddle playing of Giles Lewin on six of the tracks. Even so, it would have been helpful if the band members themselves were properly credited as regards the instruments each individual plays; it’s not as if the attractively designed digipack has insufficient space to display this small amount of extra detail.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 102 of The Living Tradition magazine.