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Reviews

String Sisters String Sisters
Album: Between Wind And Water
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.stringsisters.net

Reading more like a stream of United Nations delegates than a band of talented musicians, the String Sisters hail from Shetland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland and the United States. They blend Nordic and Celtic traditions into a glorious riot of all encompassing sound. String Sisters were formed in 2001 by Catriona Macdonald at Celtic Connections. She is now also Senior Lecturer on the BMus Folk Degree at Newcastle University. Featuring six of the world's top fiddlers backed up by an unrivalled backline quartet on piano, drums, bass and guitar, the group have achieved folk world recognition.

"The Crow's Visit" is comprised of an original tune written by Liz Knowles "As The Crow Flies" which she wrote for a group called Child's Play which all use instruments made by Bob Childs. The suggestion for the title came from Bob himself. Its is followed by "A Visit" written by Annbjørg Lien celebrating those times when musicians visit each other and jam together. It has the feel of spontaneity as well as being an exhibition of playing by accomplished musicians

"Wind And Rain" A repeated top D on the piano introduces a song known throughout the world in different forms. The tale of two sisters who each love the same man, it goes on to describe the love, jealousy and murder involved in their dispute for the man of their dreams. Mariéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Emma Härdelin sing this version in English beautifully. The fiddles of the others adding drama to the story. Another Liz Knowles original tune, "Parker's Mill" supports this song. It is named after the street on which the family farm sat in her youth. It is an interesting combination that fits together perfectly.

"Open To The Elements" is a quartet of reels "Walking Intro" begins with pizzicato on one fiddle joined at first by a single bowed instrument before attracting more to the tune. It was written by Liz Knowles as a soundtrack for documentary on urban renewal segues into "Gravel Walks To Grannie" where the pace picks up a bit. Traces of Walking Intro can still be heard through this. Dave Milligan the pianist of the group offers his "Resistance Reel" into the mix. It was inspired by a quote from historian "Steven Pressfield; "Most of us have two lives: The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance." The climax of the piece is "The Gen Road To Carrick" a traditional Irish reel. Throughout the whole tension is built up until the desire to dance becomes overwhelming. - Very enjoyable

"Hjaltland" is formed from three different tunes one "Hjaltland to Flatland" was composed by Catriona Macdonald for the 2014 Telemark International Folk Festival. Hjaltland is old Norse for Shetland and Flatland in Bø is the birthplace of many Hardanger fiddlers. It is followed by a traditional Norwegian dance for the Hardanger fiddle called "Dolkaren" from Setesdal in Norway. The name is an old Norse word for a leather pocket containing a knife. A bit like a Sporran perhaps? Then we move to Shetland proper for "Up Da Stroods Da Sailor Goes" You can almost see the sailor swaggering up the street in his gait designed to keep him right side up on unfamiliar terra firma.

"Det Bor I Mina Tankar." The deep note on the piano sounds foreboding as this track opens and that is not a false impression. It is a dour tale of betrayal and unrequited love. For almost the entire piece Emma sings accompanied only by Dave's piano with occasional percussion and Conrad Molleson on bass. Together they lend an air of melancholy to a sad tale. There was a long gone time when could I speak a little Swedish, but the message comes through loud and clear.

"Trotto." In traditional dancing a main dance tune is often followed by an "afterdance" this is one such, called a "Rotta" meaning "route" or "trotto" that has lost it's original title dance. Therefore little is known about it other than it is a charming melody which Liz has turned into a jig. I defy you not to tap your toe to this one.

"Tiger in the Galley" is a composite of two tunes, Valsjö-Tigern's Polska a traditional Swedish piece learnt from her family by Emma Härdelin. Valsjöis is a village and Tigern, the fiddler famous for playing it. The style in which it is played originated in the 19th Century. The strident voices of the fiddles is striking and uplifting. The second tune is an original written by Liz Carroll to mark an annual event. Up Helly Aa is a tradition that originated in the 1880's where evryone is Viking for a day. Since then the festival has been held every year almost without exception in Shetland. The girls went to meet the Worthy Guizer Jarl, the head man, in the Galley Shed in Lerwick, so Liz named this lively tune after the "Jarl Squad."

"Mo Níon Ó." (My Daughter O) is a lullaby written by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh who doubles as vocalist as well as a fiddle player in the group. It was arranged by Liz Knowles also a member of String Sisters from the USA. A subtle contribution from James Mackintosh on percussion and Dave Milligan on Piano introduces this gentle song written to celebrate the birth of Mairéad's daughter. Nice harmonies are produced with her band mate Emma Härdelin.

"Return From Helsinki" Written by Ian Stephenson, one of Catriona MacDonald's students and arranged by her, the tune marks his time at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. The arrangement gives vent to the solo voices but brings them together as a whole. I found it a slightly different and intriguing take on was has become accepted as Celtic music, it was beautiful.

"Vinterfolk" Written by the group's guitarist, Tore Bruvoll for a concert series at Risscenen in Oslo, Vinterfolk begins quietly with an arpeggio on the piano. It is soon joined by Tore's guitar for gentle conversation between the two. They bring to mind looking out over a Scandinavian landscape through the window of snug cabin watching the snow gently falling. The snow gets a bit heavier as the band join in playing the same theme.

"Late Night In Førde" Recalls the Førdefestivalen 2014 for which this piece was written by Annbjørge Lien whose favoured instrument is the Hardanger Fiddle. It has eight or nine strings, four of which are played like a normal fiddle, the others resonate under the influence of the four main strings. Fordefestivalen is held in a small Norwegian village each July and bands fly in from all around the world to enjoy the community spirit. The piece invokes feelings of a great time being had by all, it's melodic tunes bounding along. images of the bands followed by party goers dancing along the streets. Sometimes unexpected chords add more to the mix.

"The Blooming Conductor" A gentle waltz which gradually becomes a thrilling fast paced dance recorded live at the Celtic Colours International Festival in Nova Scotia. It is comprised of three Liz Carroll compositions, Liam Childs, named after Luthier Bob Childs' son, Balkin' Balkan and E-B-E- Reel. Guesting on this track was Liz Doherty who has appeared many times as part of the String Sisters. Unseen by us on that night was Dancer Sabra MacGillivray who together with the band received rapturous applause at the end.

I like most kinds of music (Although the better qualities of Punk and Rap still escape me) and this Album is a delight. It is made more entertaining by the sleeve notes which explain each tune. There is a lot of history involved in many of the tunes and the enjoyment is unlimited. This must be a tremendous band to experience live, but until then, this CD offers an excellent opportunity to have them in your own home.

Tony Collins