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Private Label RYM01CD

The latest winner of Scotland's Up And Coming Artist of the Year award has wasted no time in releasing his debut CD. This fiddler has a composure often lacking in the young, and is able to assemble a set list which shows both depth of tradition and an individual style. Here he plays mostly old Scottish tunes - The Back Of The Change House, The Nine Pint Coggie, Airidh Nam Badan, John MacColl's Farewell and many more - beloved of fiddlers from Gow to Grant, Skinner to Stout. These are not the new trendy session tunes recorded by many young players - Ryan points out that he doesn't come from that community, and developed his love of traditional music and his way of playing largely in isolation. This has allowed him to approach classics such as Rothiemurcas Rant and Caber Feidh with a fresh perspective, and to impose his own character on them.

Young's style has been compared to Martin Hayes, and indeed there are elements in common with the lyrical relaxed old East Clare fiddling here, but I think that is a spurious connection: although an admirer of Hayes, Ryan doesn't particularly reduce the tempo of the tunes, he just shifts the emphasis, focuses on a smaller number of notes, plays with the light and shade in a way which is different from what we are used to in Scottish fiddling. There are slow pieces here, but if you listen to The Oyster Wives' Rant or Harris Dance, the beat is not much slower than the same piece played by Alasdair Fraser or Charlie McKerron or many other Scottish fiddlers. It's the phrasing, the stretching and slurring of notes, the sparse subtle ornamentation that sets this playing apart. Ryan's performances on stage can drive a tune forward as well as the next fiddler, and this version of The White Houses of Shieldaig makes this clear, but he doesn't concentrate solely on that aspect of traditional music: he's as comfortable with slower tempos and lyrical pieces as he is with the pyrotechnics of many virtuoso performers.

Most of this album is on the slower side though, from strathspeys to airs, with a few slow reels thrown in. Very few jigs: there's a lovely version of the old West Highland jig What Pain I’ve Endured Since Last Year, not a naturally cheery number and not often played on the fiddle, but delightfully haunting in these hands. Then the fiddle slips straight into a pair of quite pacey reels, finishing on a spirited version of To Chase The Goats Off The Rocks, another rarely-celebrated aspect of Highland life, helped along by Leo Forde's guitar. The air, Ryan's Despair, is one of four Ryan Young compositions, and is the slowest and bleakest track here, only rivalled by his slow version of the familiar march, Highland Laddie, and by his languid treatment of other marches and reels. Young also turns The Irish Girl into a waltz to end this CD, delicately backed by James Ross on piano, a beautiful finish to an hour of impressive music. 

Alex Monaghan

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