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Tom McConville Tom McConville
Album: Sailing To The Far Side Of The World
Label: BoomChang
Tracks: 12

After three successive albums with Tommy in the title, this latest record from the irrepressible fiddler and singer might well have been called Tommy On The Far Side Of The World - but no, instead it takes its title directly from a fairly recent Steve Tilston song (recorded by Steve himself on his trio album Happenstance). One might interpret this gesture as typical Tommy humility, modest and self-effacing to the last - but the title also signifies the spirit of musical adventure that's ever present in Tom's music-making (the distance he'll travel to find a good tune!). On each of the album's dozen tracks we find the uplifting spirit of the comradely transatlantic session personified both in Tom's own consummate musicianship and in his natural rapport with his fellow-musicians. Here we get music straight from the soul but with a knowing grin, a constant delight for both player and listener and a gloriously shared experience to be savoured through the ears and on into the very soul of the listener.

Tom's unique expertise and ingenuity, allied to his unassumingly brilliant technique, really bring the tunes and songs to life, finding and expressing the dimension wherein resides the true essence of each composition. For a start, the more well-known titles come up delightfully fresh here: The Keel Row is given a new lease of life with Gordon Gunn's tune and a jaunty ¾ gait, while High Germany is done to a less familiar melody and sports a keen trumpet obbligato from guest John Kotre. Another trad-arr success here is Whitby Fisher Lad (coincidentally, also in the good Mr. Tilston's repertoire), which boasts a fine arrangement involving Shona Newey, David Newey and Phil Murray from Tom's touring band and wears its seven-minute length very lightly. Tom's friend of many years Chris Newman brings his unrivalled guitar wizardry into the studio for several items, and plays a mean mandolin on the album's title track - which also features the characterful pedal steel playing of Gary Carter.

Tom also contributes several original compositions, including Song For Jimmy where he pays affectionate tribute to his personal hero, 19th-century virtuoso Gateshead fiddler and composer James Hill, cannily following this with Sailor's Bonnet, a medley of tunes clearly influenced by Hill's style. The latter is one of the five instrumental tracks (scattered liberally amongst the running order) which feature Tom's fiddle (or fiddles) partnered with outstanding guitarist/mandolinist Andy Watt. Almost all of these prove disc highlights, and include the Bill Monroe tune Gold Rush, the rip-roaring multi-fiddle attack on Orcadian tune Flett Fae Flotta, and, to set the seal on proceedings, the simply gorgeous Boo Baby's Lullaby (from the pen of Jerry Holland).

This is music played with total love and respect, qualities that well outlast the CD's generous playing-time. For I'd wager that, once the CD's finished playing, the trademark McConville Bright Smile will haunt you still…

David Kidman