Alastair Savage – When Barley Reaches Shore

Album Review | Woodland Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5

There is something deeply atmospheric and evocative about Alistair Savage’s playing, there is sweet with a touch of dark melancholy.  Solo violin tracks like “Marquis of Tullibardine” manage to dance and pop with a lively rhythm and energy.  The playing is never overly furious and frantic, there is great power and tension in restraint. Hector the Hero has beautiful haunting violin and powerful bowed bass, with the accents and drawn notes sounding as much Classical as Traditional. Music this pared back means you can lose yourself in every note and every emotive draw of the bow, and lose yourself you will.  Later tunes in this set build with fire and energy but there is always a sense of space and light throughout. After the gloriously evocative melodies of Niel Gow, William Ross and James Scott Skinner, “The Soldiers Prayer” is Alistair Savage’s own composition. Written as an acknowledgement of the death in 2009, in Afghanistan of 21 year old Richard Hunt from the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh. Richard was the 200th British soldier killed in the Afghanistan conflict and the tune mixes the anger of war with the sadness at being far from home.  The two sets of tunes that make up Islay Wedding are an incredible emotional 15 minute journey, mixing tunes for a friends and his own weddings. Alistair’s violin is as expansive and emotional as we expect, but here is joined by Euan Drysdale’s reflective piano and guitar and Iain Crawford’s solid grounding Double Bass.  The trio blend thoughtful sparkling playing and some rawer emotional playing.  The interplay between the violin and piano on “The Boat to Jura” and “Finlaggan’s Farewell” is just a delight.  Another delight is the duo playing of bowed double bass and violin on the “Marquis of Huntley” set.  “Chapel Keithack” pairs Savage’s pure and thoughtful violin with Euan’s gently strummed guitar.  “The Music of Spey” is another piece as much Classical or Cinematic as Folk, every note is wrung out of the violin and piano chords at the end just hang in the air.  Reflective and expansive mood music that can hang in the air or pop and dance like the most furious frenetic traditional music. A real grower.