The Strad issue
Chris Stout (fiddle) Catriona McKay (Scottish harp)
These longtime Fiddlers’ Bid bandmates improve upon their previous duo outing, 2005’s excellent Laebrack, with an album that’s both more adventurous and more refined. The mesmeric opening lament sets a formidable standard – Chris Stout’s drones, slides and harmonics and Catriona McKay’s improvisatory ruminations imprint an Eastern exoticism on to a Nordic soundscape of ringing open strings and long keening phrases. The more familiar rhythmic drive of the Shetland style propels White Nights, which dances through several time signatures and glittering harp work, and Edges & High Water, a high-energy mix of heavy accents and syncopated double-stops with McKay digging into her bass register on the way to a flying finish. The slower tunes seem a touch understated in comparison. But Stout shows exceptional bow control in the delicate final moments of the closing air, and his subtle turns and trills bring a Baroque grace and poise to McKay’s hymn-like A Home under every Tree. The three-tune Isflak comes tantalisingly close to the way the two musicians spark off each other on stage – in the more free-flowing passages between and within tunes – and left me wishing for one more extended set. The tone of Stout’s fiddle has an attractive edge that underscores the sweeter melodies, and is ideally captured in a recorded sound that gives warmth and space to both instruments without any intrusive bloom.