Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham
Album: Five And Twenty
Label: Whirlie
Tracks: 10

Using the most natural of titles for these master musicians' sixth joint album for Whirlie, Five And Twenty celebrates 25 years of touring together. And inevitably it's a further sparkling illustration of everything they do best, and as such is not an easy album to review without indulging in the well-worn superlatives. Equally inevitably, though, any fan of these guys' fabulous musicianship will need a copy of this self-recommending record.

In the space of just a little over 42 minutes, the musical landscape turns from Ireland to Scotland and Canada and back again (albeit mostly viewed through a distinctively Scottish lens), characterised by sensitive and accomplished arrangements that for much of the time (with typical ingenuity) creatively revolve around just Aly and Phil themselves (gaining plenty of textural variety of course from Phil's own personal and highly enviable brand of instrumental versatility on accordion, piano, mandolin, cittern and whistles), but occasionally also bringing in simpatico fellow-musos Michael McGoldrick (flute), Jenn Butterworth (guitar), Ewan Burton (double bass), and Adam Brown (bodhrán), with Tom Orr and Gordon Smith appearing on isolated tracks.

It's probably invidious to try to single out individual tracks for special praise, since Aly and Phil are proven masters of so many different forms and styles of traditional music, and it's probably fair to say that I enjoyed specific tracks in specific moods. But, if pushed, I'd recommend first the stirring opening set of Irish slides that lights my candle every time, not least due to the extra buzz generated by McGoldrick's uilleann pipes. The fiddle-led set of wedding reels (track 8) packs a hefty drive yet with a lightness of touch, while there's an irresistible authentic ceilidh-band feel to the bouncy pipe-marches of the final track that won't fail to get your feet tapping. Of the slower-paced tracks that are sensibly interspersed amongst the uptempo selections, the Rev. William Macleod's fine air Sitting In The Stern Of A Boat is the highlight for me, although the sequence also includes three gorgeous waltzes that prove perfect showcases for the musicians' inborn expressive elan.

Two abundantly fine musicians still at the top of their game after a quarter of a century - and showing no signs of decline whatsoever… now there's something to celebrate

David Kidman