Album Review / RANT: The Portage

“A stark, honest recording.”

That’s how the core quality of RANT’s third outing is described on RANT’s Bandcamp site. It may be a slightly surprising choice of words for music that’s very controlled, touching on modern classical in some places, played by a quartet of Scotland’s finest (Bethany Reid, Anna Massie, Jenna Reid and Lauren MacColl). This can be effortlessly shelved under “chamber folk”.

But: it is stark and it is honest. RANT’s quadro-fiddle sound avoids the niceties of polite chamber music, retaining the rough edge and drive of Trad fiddling within the context of these fine tunes, intricate arrangements and overall ambition. Recorded in Glasgow’s magical Mackintosh church, the album forcefully communicates this combination of roots and sophistication.

The material is nicely selected and balanced, giving The Portage a good sequencing and the feel of a concert (one where you don’t have to sit down all the time). There’s a noticable and vibrant Nordic vibe on parts of the album (Göran Berg’s, Hambo, Arnt Ivar’s Polska), some serious in-your-face fiddle attack (Rosemarkie Man) and beautifully articulated lyrical pieces (Now Westlin Winds, Nach Truagh Mo Chàs, the title track).

What sticks with me in the silence when The Portage ends is the fully alive sound of those fiddles and the sense of soul and direct communication they transmit to the listener. I guess this is the core of what folk and trad music is all about, and here it is wed to musicianship of the highest order.

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