Retro Review / Alasdair Fraser: Dawn Dance (1995)

When I began to get interested in Celtic trad and folk, I might have stayed a longer time in the doorstep, peeking curiously in but not really entering the house had it not been for two artists: Capercaillie and Alasdair Fraser. Capercaillie’s Celtic crossover was a virtual key to this music to someone who adores Peter Gabriel and Sting etc, while the first encounters with Alasdair Fraser’s albums opened for me the breadth, depth and possibilities of this music. These artists thrilled me to no end and paved the way for me to wander ever deeper into the Celtic tradition.

Dawn Dance was my first “encounter of the Fraser kind” and I’m glad it was, because even when viewed against his entire output, it’s particularly colorful and varied, a reflection of a musician whose ears and soul are open to many kinds of music. The joy of songwriting and playing is so strong one can taste it.

How should I describe the style here? I guess the closest I can get is “Celtic with generous splashes of world music influences, hi tech engineering and an almost cinematic feel”. It’s definitely not Ye Olde Trad Music album but music firmly rooted in Scottish traditions, updated and embellished in a zillion ways yet always retaining that earthy feeling, anchored by Alasdair’s fiddle that seems to be capable of expressing any human emotion.

Some examples: the album opens with First Light / Dawn Rant where the early light tones Alasdair’s hypnotic fiddle evolve into a new day, first through pulsating, mildly Middle Eastern beats then the full-bloodied Scottish bounce. It’s a mini-movie by itself and well representative of the album as a whole. It’s followed by the title track’s lightly dancing medieval/Renaissance figures, not unlike an acoustic Jethro Tull piece but much more nuanced and airy.

I will say this: I was completely sold already after those two tracks and the rest of the album is just as breathtaking and exhilarating. The shimmering Highlands hymn Stratherrick, the relaxed groove of Rain On Rannoch, the simple fiddle & piano beauty of Common Ground (goosebump time…), the springtime happy hopping of Free Rein and, of course, the majestic closing, Theme For Scotland where his fiddle sounds like it’s about to burst with emotion.

Dawn Dance leaves me happy and exhausted in the best possible way. Do listen.

Dawn Dance is available on CD at Alasdair’s home page, on CD, MP3 and streaming on Amazon and streaming on Spotify and iTunes / Apple Music

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