Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Bagpipes & bluegrass: Outlands from Fred Morrison

Train Journey North is the set which opens Fred Morrison album Outlands. You may be tempted to think the bagpipes on this sound rather like a train’s whistle, which may or may not be intentional, and may or may not endear the set to you. In any case, hang on and stay along for the ride:

Morrison is one of Scotland’s most creative pipers, and he’s brought along four men who are equally well known for their readiness to take music in directions it has notfred morrisosn outlands album cover gone before. From Scotland guitarist and fiddler Matheu Watson sits in, as does the ever creative bodhran player Martin O’Neill, whose work you met most recently along the music road with Julie Fowlis. From the United States come banjo ace Ron Block whom you might know from his work with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and Grammy winning songwriter and string wizard Tim O'Brien.

It’s not about their credentials, of course, it is about the music they make together here. Morrison’s idea was to take on connections between bluegrass and highland pipes and whistles. It is no academic exploration, either. It is rather a collection of sets which join original and traditional tunes which connect with rhythms which might find themselves at home in either style. The title track, Outlands, starts off with what might be a bluegrass hoedown and travels over to a ceilidh in the highlands before it is done. Leaving Uist finds Morrison taking up the low whistle and joining with O’Neill and Watson for a spare set which paints the distinct landscape of the western isle. O’Neill’s bodhran again helps set the scene as he opens the appropriately named Drumcross set, and Morrison’s low whistle leads in to the haunting tune Nameless, and he takes up the reel pipes for the quiet Seonaiidh’s Tune set

There are ten sets in all, each equally varied and interesting. If you’re expecting highland pipes and whistles, it’s not quite that. if you;re expecting bluegrass, it’s not that either. It is fine listening that honors and extended both traditions.

you may also wish to see

Music Road: Julie Fowlis: Live at Perthshire Amber
Music Road: Musical imagination: Matheu Watson
Music Road: Capercaillie: Roses & Tears

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