Anyone who has listened to the Scottish master fiddlers of our time is familiar with Paul Anderson and his fiddle sound and style: rich, robust and yet tender and ”singing”.
Anderson and Duncan Chisholm are not far removed from each other in this respect, so perhaps it’s no wonder both men have recently – very recently in Chisholm’s case – released an album inspired by an iconic Scottish or Celtic landmark.
But that’s where the resemblance ends. Whereas Chisholm’s Black Cuillin (an album I will discuss shortly) is an epic, genre-busting band collaboration in aural CinemaScope, Anderson’s Iona is a beautiful, almost spiritual, chain of mostly quite brief and low-key musical moments, with poetry written and recited by Francy Devine, appearing between tunes a few times.
The cast of musicians appearing on the album is impressive but, in truth, this is very much Mr. Anderson’s work: his fiddle and presence create this music and its spirit. There are a few pieces for solo fiddle only, and a few more for fiddle and piano.
So it’s very intimate and small scale, and that is just perfect for the theme. I have never been to Iona – yet! – but I’d imagine this music reflects not only the peace and spirituality of the place, but also the human lives lived there throughout centuries. Iona is a holy place but also a place where human history, sometimes cruel, has been written. I feel this music reflects both sides of that unique location.
Paul Anderson composed the music for Iona for an art project about the life and legacy of a certain Colm Cille, who later history knows better as St. Columba. I presume this context may have immersed the artist in the actual history of the saint and the Abbey, at least the music here feels… internalized, for want of a better word, as if the story of Iona is expressed, through Paul Anderson’s mastery and persona, in music. It is truly precious.
A couple of years ago, I called Lauren MacColl’s masterful solo fiddle album Landskein ”Highland Zen”. As Iona is a Christian place, I’m not sure if it would be correct to use that term again, but perhaps the people who dedicate their lives in monasteries understand and respect each other across cultures. And if Zen means being totally aware, present, wihout illusions and selfless without effort, then Paul Anderson’s music on Iona is just that.
Music for your ears and your soul, whatever your faith. Bless you, Mr. Anderson.