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Alastair SavageAlastair Savage
Album: When Barley Reaches Shore
Label: Woodland
Tracks: 10

When recording his fifth album 'When Barley Reaches Shore' Alastair Savage decided to take his time - rather than rushing through all the material in a few days, Alastair, accompanied by Euan Drysdale on piano and guitar, and Iain Crawford on double bass, chose to record little and often over a three year period, waiting for the right performances to be captured.

And captured they were - the playing and arrangements throughout this album are effortless and expertly performed, with a feel that can only come from experienced players at ease with the material and each other. They are also perfectly recorded by engineer Dave Gary of Sound Cafe studios, who deserves a special mention as the sound truly is superb - you can hear all the details of each instrument and the recording is close and full sounding whilst still maintaining a natural tone.

Of course it must be easier to get a great sound when you have players of this caliber in the studio and the album is littered with captivating moments - in particular the interplay between fiddle and double bass on the medley of 'Hector The Hero/Milladen/The Devil In The Kitchen/The Devil And The Dirk' is inventive, melodic, driving and, on the final descending section of The Devil And The Dirk', wildly exciting.

As with previous releases Alastair draws from the melodies of the great 18th and 19th century fiddle composers Niel Gow and James Scott Skinner as well as adding some William Marshall pieces, but he also brings some of his own compositions to the table - the poignant solo 'Soldier's Prayer' moves between restlessness and more peaceful moments, finishing with ghostly notes that raise the hairs on your neck, leaving you with the question: 'was the prayer answered?'.

'Islay Wedding Music (Parts 1 and 2), composed individually first for a friends wedding and then his own, show once again that Alastair's ear for a great melody and both tracks feature some excellent trio playing - whereas most tracks on this album are duo performances, it's great to hear the combination of fiddle, acoustic guitar and double bass and it's a shame more tracks don't feature all three players as the sound when all are involved is fantastic.

Whilst it's tempting to continue to sing this album's praises, all good things must come to an end, and, with 'The Music O' Sprey' Alastair leaves us on a contemplative note, selflessly leaving the last word for Euan's sustaining piano chords.

This album may have been a long time coming, but the extended gestation period has clearly worked in it's favour and, for fans of fiddle music as well as those who simply love beautiful melodies performed with thoughtful expertise by accomplished players, there's plenty on 'When Barley Reaches Shore' to keep you entertained until the next album emerges - but let's hope that we don't have to wait too long.

Ben Morgan-Brown