As friends of contemporary Scottish music scene know, Duncan Lyall is one of the busiest people working in that field as a musician, composer, producer and whatnot. A multi-talent who, perhaps because of covid, has released only his second solo outing. His previous album, Infinite Reflections, was released in 2013 and it was essentially a suite, commissioned by Celtic Connections a bit earlier. It’s one of my very favorite Celtic albums, combining the living, acoustic Scottish tradition with nicely used electronics, fusion jazz and shades of progressive rock.
Milestone, too, is a work in several movements, but more so than Reflections, as the main themes come up here and there across the album and the overall impression is more unified. The “big theme” in the opening, Wind In The Trees, was the theme music of the virtual Celtic Connections 2021 and familiar to anyone who celebrated the festival this year in their living room.
That track also represents Milestone as a whole pretty well, I think: a vast soundscape, clean and emotionally powerful melody lines, a seamless union of programming and actual, living humans playing their hearts out. And it’s not a sequel to Reflections in any sense. That one had much more emphasis on acoustic instruments, for one, and it had its moments of quiet serenity (A Wretched Heart is such a precious piece of music), whereas Milestone is a band album: bigger, more electric, very cohesive, with not really steep mountains or low valleys, dynamics-wise. It’s a carefully composed and realized body of music that really should be enjoyed as a complete work unto itself, I think.
The individual tracks tend to run around seven minutes so the music has time to grow and develop deliciously. Barnacarry Bay, for example, shimmers and holds back for 3m 30s before it lets go and takes to gorgeous flight in waltz time. And Twa Corbies, this time beautifully sung by Lori Watson, is divided into two clear sections that give the melody two very different treatments.
It’s pretty majestic stuff throughout until on the final track, Titan, the ensemble finally lets it rip with some really tight Celtic funk and soloing – Elephant Sessions are not far removed from this stuff. It’s a cathartic closing to an exquisite and uplifting album that will serve you well in these continuing strange times. And it’s another testimony to Duncan Lyall’s formidable musical muscle and vision.
Please support great music and great musicians and get your copy of Milestone on Duncan’s Bandcamp site: https://duncanlyall.bandcamp.com/album/milestone