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KAREN MARSHALSAY - The Road To Kennacraig 

KAREN MARSHALSAY - The Road To Kennacraig 
Cramasie Records CRCD001 

The harp as a chosen instrument is enjoying something of a renaissance; being now seen as a lead instrument and also a source of accompaniment. Karen Marshalsay is both a harper and creator. Here she plays three harps: a wire-strung clàrsach, a Baroque Bray Harp from Ardival Harps, and a gut-strung lever harp from Jack Yule (and also, on one occasion, a Boxwood whistle from John Swayne). The tune types include everything from pibrochs to marches and more strident dance tunes like reels and jigs, most of which are self-composed or pieces taken from obscure manuscript sources or more regular pipe tune collections.

Of the stand-out tracks, several pieces excel. St Fillan’s / The Rhymer’s Reel includes a slow air followed by a reel composed by Karen and part of a longer piece called Thomas The Rhymer, an instrumental interpretation of the adventures in Elfland of Sir Thomas de Ercildoun, as told in various romances and Child 37. The Road To Kennacraig itself features the clarsach, the clear cool tone suiting the melody, which develops into variations incorporating the type of ornamentation characteristic of pipe music. The wire-strung clàrsach features again on Carrill’s Lament, a melodically simple but effective tune from James Oswald’s 18th century collection, Caledonian Pocket Companion. And Ülle’s Reel is a slow reel written by piper John Saunders that features excellent whistle playing as well as the harp. What emerges is Karen’s understanding and command of the accentuations and modes of pipe music, which is a feature that underpins both the lay-out and the musical slant of the album itself. The Road To Kennacraig is a compelling and well-wrought collection that veers to the left-field of the harp tradition and demonstrates the level of creative compositional strengths found therein.

John O’Regan


This review appeared in Issue 131 of The Living Tradition magazine