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CALUM STEWART - Tales From The North

CALUM STEWART - Tales From The North
Earlywood Music EMCD02

All of us can recall seminal moments in our musical lives, and one of my most memorable ones was hearing Paddy Keenan playing the Stones’ Satisfaction on uilleann pipes in a session about 30 years ago. The scales fell from my eyes as I realised the full potential and flexibility of that instrument in the hands of an expert. Calum Stewart’s offering, in a different way, has done a similar thing for me: here we have a piper from the North of Scotland playing largely self-penned compositions inspired by his own local traditions on an instrument associated with another country’s music. Many of these pieces have a very modern feel, albeit with very traditional roots. If all this sounds a bit odd, don’t be put off – this is a very rich mixture, and a real aural treat.

Calum’s joined by a galaxy of very able musicians from Scotland, Ireland and Brittany, and this colours and enhances the musical interpretations throughout the CD. On occasions there are echoes of Brittany, Galicia and other musical genres along with the strong Scots influence. With just 10 tracks, this may not look as if there’s a lot of variety, but again, don’t be deceived – in many cases there are two or three distinct parts to each track; the overall production standard is excellent and the result’s somewhat reminiscent of early Michael McGoldrick recordings in terms of the “sound” achieved.

The first track, Am Monadh Ruadh, hits you right between the eyes and sets the pace for the CD, although I particularly enjoyed one of the two tracks featuring the low whistle, Music O’ Spey, a beautiful and reflective piece - Calum’s interpretation of this Scott Skinner composition was outstanding, and a contrast to the high-octane pace on many other tracks.

Criticisms? I really can’t think of any worth mentioning, except for the lack of a slow air in the mix; partly because I love slow airs played on pipes, and also because they’re a great means of judging the piper.These are highly skilled musicians playing interesting music and at the top of their game. If you enjoy good music and uilleann pipes, it will make an intriguing and worthwhile addition to your collection.

John Waltham

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