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ROSS & RYAN COUPER - And Den Dey Made Tae 

ROSS & RYAN COUPER - And Den Dey Made Tae 
Private Label RRC01CD 

"Fiddle and guitar played in exciting and innovative ways." I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I hope they washed their hands before they made the tea! Well they'd have to really - the sweat pouring off them, the rosin flying, and the smoke. The smoke from burning strings, from explosive tunes, from a tradition set alight by this pair from Shetland. These northernmost Scottish islands now have a new fire ritual to add to Up Helly Aa, to the Yule traditions of cadaverous candles and purification with peat smoke, and to the story of that time Davy Tulloch put a match to Tammy Anderson's breeks.

Ross Couper is probably best known as the fiddler with Highland band, Peatbog Faeries, but he performs in several other groups. Here he is accompanied by his brother Ryan, an excellent exponent of the Shetland guitar style, and the only pupil of legendary guitarist, Peerie Willie Johnson. Ryan also knows his brother's mind and follows his moves with uncanny skill: Ross Couper is probably one of Scotland's most exuberant, improvisational and unpredictable fiddlers, so keeping up with him is a challenge in itself! And Den Dey Made Tae is a Shetland saying probably even more common in 2020 than previously, and this CD is roughly two-thirds Shetland material with the other third split between Ireland and North America. Ross and Ryan bring their own compositions to the party, from storming reels to gentle airs, and the family connection extends to tunes by both their parents as well as some fine piano accompaniment from their sister Mariann on the traditional reels, Tilly Plump and Da Shaalds O' Foula, with Ryan switching to fiddle for the final track.

The lads kick off with that distinctive Shetland swing on a couple of Ronnie Cooper tunes and the traditional reel Come Again You're Welcome, fast and feisty with virtuoso bowing and Ross' trademark runs. A couple of Couper reels bring us to a set of Irish jigs and reels, delicately handled but with no slacking. The first slower track is Da Sneug Water Waltz by Chris Stout, a glorious melody to match its title, and a waltz by Ross for Mariann's son. Lashing through Marie Claire by Jerry Holland, and a set of Irish hornpipes and reels, we come to the first of Ryan's tunes, a more American feel which is continued by the Billy Joel melody And So It Goes on fingerpicked guitar and the oldtime reel Tom & Jerry with screaming fiddle from Ross. Ryan's other piece, Jessi, is more folky, a beautiful guitar air with a timeless quality. Three more sets of Shetland reels complete this album, new and old and in between, which could be subtitled Shetland Music: Not Calm and which will delight fans of the Couper style and of fiddle music in general.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 137 of The Living Tradition magazine