Alistair McCulloch Trio – Off the Hook

Album Review | Rostral Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

The Alistair McCulloch Trio play a sharp clean version of Traditional Folk Music with a little jazz swing. The opening set ‘Mazurkas’ perfectly demonstrates the trio’s strengths. Beautiful, clear well defined Fiddle and Whistle lines weave around each other, as dexterous and captivating as birds in flight. Trio leader Alistair and one time Capercaillie member Marc Duff are masters of their respective fiddle and whistles, conjuring light, shade and interest. Aaron Jones of the excellent Old Blind Dogs and Kate Rusby’s band handles the vocals through Off the Hook, his voice on “Green Grow the Laurels” and “Billy Taylor” is spot on, clear and considered. Even on “Brady’s Set” an up-tempo twisting set and multi tracked Marc Duff playing the whistles and Bodhran this is an album that is as much for careful listening to as frenetic dance moves. “Whistle Solo” doesn’t herald the arrival of the traditions equivalent of a thirty minute Prog rock styled percussion feature. Rather a set of tunes where Duff’s beguiling bird like whistles are to the fore to better show his flying fingers and delicate touch. Although I bet a mammoth whistle Moby Dick like solo by Marc Duff would be breath taking. “Shetland Set” with the beautifully stark “Da Day Dawn”, in McCulloch’s hands solo fiddle has never sounded so evocative and so emotional. There is beauty in his playing of the tune, but there is also a touch of the savagery of the season it commemorates. Through the other tunes the music builds and swells delightfully as the fiddle is joined by whistles and a percussive guitar. Aaron’s vocals come into their own on Wild Rover he nails a sense of regret and delivers real emotional punch. When he holds a note there is a touch of Dick Gaughan’s beguiling yelp to his voice. Simply stunning and captivating with the whistle and fiddle adding to the wonderfully melancholic atmosphere. “Urquharts” the album closer is a slow burning beauty built around emotional fiddle and whistle parts and a harp like guitar or bouzouki. Fast is good, with the instruments weaving together and sparking off each other, but the slow numbers bring such atmosphere and moments of contemplation on a very strong album. While a long established live draw, this is the trio’s first album after scores of appearances on albums for other people. The band feels Off the Hook is a distillation of their live performance and across ten tracks the three players bring a great sense of a whole, while individual tracks reveal hidden depths and subtleties that hold your interest to the end. Hopefully the title is a gentle repost to the many who have asked at gigs for a trio CD, rather than an indication that now that obligation is fulfilled that’s it. Hopefully the trio will not let themselves so easily off the hook.