Listening Diary for June 6-12, 2022: Natalie MacMaster, Mishra, James Harper, the olllam, Eabhal

Master fiddlers are one of my favorite things in this world and Natalie MacMaster 🇨🇦 is one of the greatest. I love the energy in her playing; so much light and joy there. Her 2019 album Sketches was just the right soundtrack for a leisurly walk in the sunny and warm Finnish Saturday. I’ve never been to Cape Breton but dammit, I have to there some day… Absolutely lovely music, lovely album, full of life and musicianship to die for.

I don’t have a faintest idea where and when I discovered Mishra 🇬🇧 and why I tagged their album Reclaim (2021) in my ”check this out later” list. But I’m awful glad I did because this is super cool stuff! Imagine a blend of British, Celtic and Indian folk with a dash of both jazz and pop thrown in and played with delighful skill and freshness. As for vocals, Kate Griffin’s voice is just right for this stuff, both ethereal and strong, she really carries the tunes. I simply love this, it was nothing like I expected, and it reminds me of no other band – although on the song Second Line, I could easily hear the voice of XTC’s Andy Partridge; the song’s atmosphere bears a certain resemblance to the XTC album Mummer, that band’s folkiest album that also had a tinge of the Oriental here and there. But that’s beside the point – my reaction to Reclaim is a full tilt ”yay!” 😃

Red Hot Chilli Piper James Harper’s 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 first solo album Culzean (2020) was another great find. Backed by first class Scottish musicians, Harper treats us to both excellent tunes and likewise brilliant playing. It’s an album of nice variety mostly within the styles of trad and neotrad, but I can sense a more adventurous spirit breaking through – I can easily see James Harper joining Ross Ainslie in the forefront of modern, genre-busting Scottish music in the near future. As Culzean is already two years old and I think it’s nothing but excellent, I’m eagerly waiting for the sequel!

A bit older master piper, John McSherry 🇮🇪, one of my big faves, has joined up with his American jazz and funk mates for the second full helping of The Olllam. As the first ”tripllle L” album came out a decade ago, it was interesting to hear this one, elllegy (2022). Again it’s a fascinating soundscape of new age-y elements, very tight and funky grooves, some really out there time signatures and, of course, McSherry’s absolutely dazzling performance. I personally find the album in its entirety slightly demanding, though, as there are few moments when the music opens up and takes to flight, so to say. The production is very tight and the trance-inducing aural experience is something I can enjoy in limited servings, especially as the tracks are fairly long, running for 7-8 minutes on average. It’s brilliant stuff in its unique genre mashup, but perhaps my favorite track here is the burialll stone where the relentless focus lets up and gives room to a majestic, beautiful melody.

From the Outer Hebrides, Eabhal 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 came a few years ago with a very nice and promising debut album. Now the follow-up. Aisling (2022) is here and I was happy to note that the band still sounds fresh and the album is very enjoyable. It’s not a great leap neither forward nor tho either side, the band has kept to their style of Gaelic songs and instumental tunes, and works just fine. I may have secretly wished for a few surprose moves but Aisling works fine as it is. The instrumental Taigh (House) I liked especially. It’s lively and warm and has a nice groove but it also features some brief melancholy shades – and that’s what life in a good house is made of, right?

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