Retro Review / Catriona McKay: Starfish (2007)

Starfish is a small wonder. The animal, of course, is one of nature’s miracles, and there’s a magical quality to harpist Catriona McKay’s solo album, too, released 12 years ago.

It’s one of those albums where a true master decisively shows both the instrument’s powers and her own artistic strength: her custom Starfish Scottish harp is in the focus constantly and all but three of the 11 compositions are McKay’s own. She does not use a band on this album (or any other of her solo and collaborative efforts) but relies on an acoustic guitar and a small string ensemble to back her.

With such an ensemble – no bass, no percussion, no piano – a lesser musician might well come up with some dry and repetitive music. Not so here: every composition is rich and interesting and her arrangements for the small group are detailed and imaginative. And her playing is… stunning, truly, from the superb way she presents the melody lines and some impossible fast runs to the loose, natural pulse she can draw out of the harp.

It’s a colorful 45 minutes of music, from the playful-to-frenzied-and-back title track, the lizard-in-the-sun swing of Sand Dollar, the light. liquid groove of Lums O’Lund and the luminous, ethereal beauty of Swan LK243 and Aval Moon. There’s no “Celtic” music here in the sense of Scottish and Irish folk style, but the influence is there in the harp itself and in some of the melody lines.

I enjoy every second of this album; it makes me smile, tap my foot lightly and just admire a fabulous musician playing her heart out.

Starfish is on Spotify, iTunes / Apple Music and Amazon

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