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Private Label MBR4CD

Four female fiddlers from Scotland, playing beautiful arrangements of traditional music. That's RANT in a nutshell. You can find out details from, well worth a visit. But since you're reading this, I can tell you a bit more. The fiddles in question belong to Bethany and Jenna Reid, Lauren MacColl, and Sarah-Jane Summers. There's no backing band, no technical effects: just four lasses scraping away in an old church. If you listen closely you may notice an occasional imperfection, but this is as close to a perfect performance as makes little difference. All four memebers of RANT have released albums in their own right - solo or duo - and three of them are among my favourite fiddlers: Bethany Reid is better known as a pianist and composer, so I'll have to add her to my fiddle favourites at some point. Jenna and Bethany are of course from Shetland, but after rather more than 500 years of Scottish rule the islanders are well enough integrated that I think it's now PC to call them Scottish. However, Shetland music is still distinct from Scottish music, with a much stronger Scandinavian heritage and this partly explains the Nordic harmonies on RANT's debut CD. S-J also has a strong interest in Scandinavian music, although she only plays her Hardanger fiddle for one track here. The quartet does bring some of the Nordic darkness and arctic edge to this release: particularly on Lauren's tune, East Church, written for the Black Isle location chosen for the recording and on Jenna's composition, Jan's Return, which merits a dark treatment because of the story behind it.

Of course, there's no dark brooding side to the players themselves. The band's name apparently expresses only merriment and frolics: these girls are all permanently cheerful, without a moody moment in their lives, and the definition of "rant" as an angry tirade, quite out of proportion to a man's sins, is completely unknown to them. That's why they can play so harmoniously together. Jordan Taylor's is a great example, a simply gorgeous arrangement of an already exceptional melody. It's followed by Kate And Julie's First Reel, one of many joyous tunes by the adopted Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland who is sadly missed. Liz Carroll, another North American fiddler, penned the opening melody Fremont Center, which shows RANT in Shetland-style open tuning, allowing even richer ringing harmonies. Another outstanding track here is the inspired combination of two tunes from Neil Angus MacDonald's old piping collection: Tuning Prelude and The Ramparts complement each other perfectly, rather like Gounod's Ave Maria and Bach's Prelude No.1 in C, building a heavenly vortex of sound. If you think I exaggerate, give RANT a listen yourself. Most of the ten tracks on this album are worthy of angels. Things do get rather more devilish on Da Haa, and Miss Ferguson Of Raith was obviously a bit of a goer, but my abiding impression of this CD is blissful melodies and celestial fiddle harmonies.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.