New album review: LAS – Brìghde Chaimbeul, Ross Ainslie

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Review by Chris MacKenzie • Great White Records, GWR008CD.

Those of a certain vintage will remember the days where there were regular releases of solo piping recordings, featuring the piper playing a formulaic repertoire of marches, some hornpipes and jigs and, of course, a piobaireachd. These days, the truly solo recording is as rare as an empty beer tent at the Worlds.

One type of piping recording that has always been rare is the pipes as a duet, the Cape Breton duo of Paul MacNeil and Jamie MacInnis and their excellent Fosgail an Dorus comes to mind and of course Ross Ainslie’s collaboration with Ali Hutton could be called a piping duo as they both do play the pipes but given the number of other instruments, they bring to the party calling them a piping duo might be a tad disingenuous. No such doubts with Ross’s partnership with Brìghde Chaimbeul on this recording. Here we have, nearly, unadorned piping and a duet of pipers. That they are playing smallpipes in C makes it unique.  It is ‘nearly’ unadorned because Brìghde and Ross are joined by guitarist Steven Byrnes who provides the rhythmic background to the twin pipes.

From the opening notes of Ross’s brilliantly named Green Light of the Lonely Souls through to the closing beats of the final tune, The Rambling Par, another of Ross’ tunes, the trio establish the smoothest of grooves whether the tune is slow and plaintive like Brìghde’s, The Weasel or rattling along like The Badger. That groove and the tonal resonance of the C smallpipes give the sets a delightful coherence across the recording, irrespective of whether the tunes are from Scotland, Ireland, Bulgaria or France, in a way that recordings featuring the Great Highland Bagpipe often don’t manage. The relaxed playing of Brìghde and Ross has a Cape Breton feel to it particularly in the strathspey and reel set where the Ruthiemurchus Rant, Munlochy Bridge, Lord MacDonald’s and Mary Ann MacIssac’s all bounce along with panache and gusto.

There is energy aplenty with the Irish set going from pacy to mach1 speed by the time the trio get to the Wild Irishman. Likewise, the trio of Ross tunes to finish the CD move through the reflective Susi and Ben’s by way of Up the Whangie to the, aforementioned, The Rambling Par by which time fingers are flying and feet should be tapping. As with Brìghde’s debut album, The Reeling, the drones are kept high in the mix here which allows them to underpin the chanter sound as they would if you were listening live. Indeed, the album was recorded ‘live’ at Bannview Studios to try and capture that ‘live’ sound. Safe to say they have achieved that. While the pipes are very much front and centre on this album the excellent playing of Steven Byrnes should not be glossed over. His guitar playing matches the drive and verve of the pipe playing to create a powerful rhythmic component to match the strong melodic line of the pipes.

This is a sensational album that just delights from the first strike-in to the last note. Two instruments and three players in complete synchronization playing beautiful arrangements of cracking tunes. That is really all that is required. Highly recommended. CHRIS MacKENZIE.