Alistair Anderson and Northlands – Alistair Anderson and Northlands

Album Review | White | Review by Liam Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

Many will know musician Alistair Anderson as a stalwart of the international folk scene.  Over the last five decades, the concertina player and Northumbrian piper has toured his blend of traditional and contemporary Northumbrian music across the world, originally as part of The High Level Ranters but, most often, as a solo artist and frequent collaborator as both performer and composer.  Others will know Alistair as the founder of the Folkworks organisation which has helped to revolutionise folk music with its popular series of annual summer schools at the Sage, Gateshead.  It was at the Folkworks Youth Summer School during the 1990s that Anderson first encountered the young musicians who join him on this stunning new record which presents a picturesque ramble through traditional 18th century tunes, several North Country jigs and reels and a few new compositions, too.  Sophy Ball provides the slick fiddle, which is never more nimble and enthusiastic than on Risty Gulley or more deeply melancholy than on “The Snow it Melts the Soonest” which features a heartfelt vocal by flautist and singer Sarah Hayes.  And whilst Hayes – best known as a member of Glaswegian band Admiral Fallow – provides equally sincere lyrics on “I Drew My Ship Into the Harbour”, partly inspired by the version by Shirley Collins, and on Jez Lowe’s thundering “Taking on Men”, she also brings to this record a tastefully warm-toned flute which flourishes from track to track.  The backbone of this fine album, however, is Ian Stephenson’s acoustic guitar which shimmers crisply throughout, along with his double bass and piano which help flesh out the sound; and it’s a sound that has been carefully mixed by Ian, who produced the album, to ensure that each instrument is clearly defined.  And whilst Alistair Anderson dazzles with some of the most gorgeous sounding concertina playing and piping you’re ever likely to hear, he never places himself anywhere other than firmly within the unit.  Alistair Anderson & Northlands is an album and, indeed, an ensemble that insists upon unity, deep connection and riveting interplay.