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Ewen Henderson Ewen Henderson
Album: Steall
Label: Sgadan
Tracks: 11

The cover is a sequence photograph of Ewen leaping off a steep cliff into water to immerge open mouthed from the depths. Of the album he says his original intent of carefully curating, tailoring and gathering material was discarded and in its place he found it more exhilarating to just dive in head first and fully immerse himself in the torrent, the steall. That explains the photo then.

Opening jigs, one commemorating Ewen's Australian travels with The Battlefield Band, are bright and spirited. Ewen flies on the fiddle, pipes and piano over solid playing from the band. "Oran à Bhranndaidh" is a spry but surprising mix of gaelic poetry by Duncan Ban McIntyre, jazzy guitar chords, clarinet and whistles. A light hearted ode to Brandy. "Camus Daraich", named for a beautiful beach and Ewen's brothers marriage on those same sands, is simply a beautiful and uplifting tune as fiddle and piano dance together.

"Direadh a-mach ri Beinn Shianta" is by turns more strident with a pounding piano opening and thoughtful with very loopy percussion, discordant fiddles an emotional gaelic vocal from Ewen singing about the clearances. There is dance music, with Henderson's light as air fiddle duetting with Thomas Gibbs' clarinet on "Waltzs". MSR, is a, spirited, raw set of competition tunes for the pipes, here performed by fiddle with some eerie drones created by the pipes themselves. A strange visceral minimalism ensues, where the dancing fiddle and the minimal drones become hypnotic. "Dileab na h-Aibhne" is stunning soundtrack music, great swaths of classical piano, atmospheric whistles and fiddle create pictures over James MacKintosh's lively percussion. Stunning, simply stunning.

"Gantocks" are a small collection of rocks of the coast of Dunoon. Ewen's fiddle duetting with Ewan McPherson's guitar creates a sense of their beauty. With changing tempo and pace and a franetic harmonium suggesting the pace of the waters. "Seinn an Duan Seo" is a solemn but stirring gaelic song with piano accompaniment, a romantic but forlorn love song. Almost jazzy again is the rythmn and guitar on "Hornpipes" with Gibb's clarinet wafting Goodman like through proceedings. "Caileag Ruadh Staoinebrig" is a beautiful tune Ewen composed for his wedding. The melody, carried by the pipes and fiddle is charged and stirring, an uplifting close to a delightful album.

Away the charged and muscular Folk Rock attack of Manran, Ewen Henderson reveals a reflective and more pared back side of quiet moments, interludes and gaelic tales.

Marc Higgins