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BRIAN McNEILL - "Monksgate" Greentrax CDTRAX062

Break out the superlatives - and that's just for the recording quality! If Free Reed were producing this degree of clarity in 1977, why on earth are we still having to pay for fuzzy releases where musicians are distorted, too close to the microphone etc. etc.? Send a copy of this C.D. to every producer and say "match it or go bust".

Now for the music - Brian McNeill is a superb musician and composer whose work I am principally familiar with through the Battlefield Band. This C.D.'s origins are roughly contemporary with early Battlefield, and this must be borne in mind whilst listening to it. It is a fine collection of tunes, some well-known, some little played, with a predominantly Irish feel. The two totally Scots sets do stand out, particularly the 'competition' set, which sound rather like just that.

The opening set had me leaping for my Charlton tune book, but then the overall sound left me wondering if 'Queen of Sluts' does have an Irish origin - musically, that is! I would have preferred (we're going for perfection here!) if the sudden commencement had been softened by hearing the pipe drones come in on the tracks where they are used, but I appreciate that most people are not so used to this.

The C.D. does show its age to a certain extent, the chief symptom being the sound of the electric piano - technology has advanced a long way in 15 years, and modern versions would sound more realistic. I could have taken a lot more of Alan Reid's excellent backings, only really in evidence on the last track. I was hoping that 'Monksgate' - the title track - would develop into something totally outrageous in the best Alan Reid tradition, but maybe that's just the vague memory of wanting to put a bomb under school assemblies.

The other track I was not entirely comfortable with was the concertina hornpipe set, which sounds quite idiosyncratic in places. Again I suspect its the vintage - there's nothing wrong with the concertina on Music on Trust - when did your start playing it, Brian?

Overall, however, this is an excellent and very listenable noise, and would be particularly valuable to someone wanting to study experts playing a variety of traditional rhythms and instruments.

Julia Say

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This album was reviewed in Issue 3 of The Living Tradition magazine.