Norman Mackay – The Inventor

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

With a title like The Inventor, this interesting album couldn’t sound more like a Victorian novel if it was finished in worn hand tooled leather and gold leaf. The sleeve, off white, like the eponymous Beatles album, is deceptively simple, open the tasteful case to an evocative photo of Mackay’s hands and instrument alongside a quote. “The Earth has music for those who listen”. One run through and you know two things, one Santayana’s quote is right and two the album title is no jocular boast. The accordion is the hands of a master like Norman Mackay is such an evocative instrument, drifting between noir film soundtracks, eastern European cafe music and visceral Folk music. It is a credit to Norman and his assembled musicians that this genre defying shifting music, sometimes hits all of these reference points in one track.

The achingly atmospheric opening title track moves from rainy film soundtrack to buoyant fairground, with Cameron Jay’s trumpet a small string section and Phil Alexander’s piano helping tell an array of beautiful stories. “Missy of the Mhor” is a more folk setting for the same ingredients with Norman’s accordion managing to always bring colour and interest. “Walter’s Waltz for All” is nimble dance music for all, but it’s the glide of a mirrored ballroom not a  frantic dance in a barn, there is beauty in the melody of Greg Lawson’s violin and Mackay’s accordion melody. Adam Bulley’s deft guitar accompanies Norman’s melody on Mackenzie Cottage, a tune for the musician’s parents. Su-a Lee’s Cello provides a stirring solo on this album that reveals delight after delight. “Carly’s Trip to Ecclefechan” is a piece of different moods, a choppy accordion intro, a hypnotic tune, an eldritch fiddle and a frolicking Miles muted trumpet. “Ian Mackay” is a straight ahead beautiful tune in memory of Norman’s father Ian. There is so much emotion carried in the strings and accordion. “Lord Anselm / Disco Inferno” had me at disco inferno. As you expect this a piece of two halves a pastoral duet between Jack Badcock’s guitar and the accordion, followed by a more rousing storm of a tune, the first percussion of the album driving the piece on. “Monachill Waltz” is a slow burn with a burst of colour from the strings and a emotional trumpet at the close. “Gellatly’s March”, written for Norman’s sisters wedding, manages a quietly stirring first section showcasing the strings and accordion, this builds to the bagpipes and finally a simply stunning climax by the Edinburgh Singers Choir. If that doesn’t make you sit up and listen, then you haven’t got a Soul. Phil Alexander closes the album, beautifully restating the title tune on a piano as lyrical as late period Brubeck. Simply beautiful. 

Choice Track: “Waiter’s Waltz for Ali” (NSV 488)