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Burnbank Records BBRCD001

It's a real delight to discover people you'd never even heard of who play precisely the music you want to listen to - and who do it as well as this pair. Despite their startling youth, Simpson and Hawksworth have mastered many challenging tunes, and written some beauties of their own. Sally's fiddling is pretty much contemporary Scottish, bags of technique layered upon a real feel for the music, while Catriona provides very traditional piano accompaniment, somewhere between Scottish dance band restraint and Cape Breton flamboyance. As well as dabbling in Swedish traditional music, both players are able to switch to a more classical mode, and this comes through in a couple of places here: their collaborative composition Wild Geese for example, and the Victor Jara piece, La Partida, which definitely comes out of left field.

Duo is the debut CD by this pair, although they have played together for years and it shows in the tightness of their duet performances and the dovetailing of fiddle and piano parts. This album has little of the manic modern style favoured by some young players: there's a preponderance of slower forms, from airs to waltzes to retreat marches, and the faster dance music is measured and mature. One of the more eclectic tracks here starts with John Rae's jazzy Easy Peezy and moves through an elusive D minor jig to the recent Irish composition, Seanamhac Tube Station. The CD ends on a set which seems to skip from Alasdair Fraser to Johnny Cunningham to Natalie MacMaster - not a bad set of role models, and some fine accompaniment too! There isn't a bad track here, but I'll pick out a few highlights: the opening march/polska, Burnbank Cottage, by Catriona, the big set of driving strathspeys starting with Mrs Robertson Of Grishornish, and Donald Knox's air, The Mothers of St Ann's, which is both beautiful and delicate. Duo is a contender for my 2017 Top Ten, and if Simpson and Hawksworth keep producing music like this I'll be more than happy: but I suspect they can do even better. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.