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Ossian: The Carrying Stream
(Greentrax CDTRAX 127, 1997)

 

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This is by no means a new CD, but it's new to me. Having been a huge Ossian fan in the late 1970s onwards, it was a thrill for me when I went to see a group called Smalltalk in 1995 or '96. The band's line-up was original Ossian singer Billy Ross along with piper Iain MacInnes and fiddler Stuart Morrison, both refugees from The Tannahill Weavers. On this particular night the introduced a new member, none other than Ossian lynch pin William Jackson. Not long after this the band took on the Ossian name and The Carrying Stream was released in 1997. It has taken me a while to get round to buying this album, but now that I have, I love it.

The spirit of Ossian is still present, and it's one which is unique and very special. Their choice and delivery of material was always a magical sum which was greater than the parts; this is no slur on the individual members, who are all first class musicians. The interaction between clarsach, guitar, voice, whistles, fiddle, and Scottish smallpipes creates a sound verging on the divine.

Singer Billy Ross is, I think, underrated. He was replaced in the original Ossian by Tony Cuffe, and while that's a tough act to be compared with, I believe Ross matches up equally. From simple Scots songs like Fisherrow and The Working Man to the wonderful Gaelic songs (a Billy Ross speciality) Mo Chailin Dileas and Maighdeananan Na h-Airidh, his sweet vocals enhance the overall arrangement. As for the aforementioned Mo Chailin Dileas, I'm completely in love with it. Such a simple melody, but one of the highlights of the album.

The instrumental tracks are finely chosen. One of my favourite slow airs, Logan Water is delicately arranged and paired with the idiosyncratic Pennan Den by James Watt (1832-1909). Port Lennox, a very old harp tune said to be a favourite of Ruairi Dall O'Cathain, starts off as it should, on clarsach only. Slowly, other sounds join in, but never overwhelm. The faster sets encompass reels, strathspeys, jigs, and hornpipes. And any Ossian album would be incomplete without one of Willam Jackson's compositions, in this case the eponymous The Carrying Stream, a solo clarsach which very nicely puts the CD to bed.

With Jackson now residing in the US, it's looking unlikely that the group can easily reform, so The Carrying Stream is a perfect bookend to the career of one of Scotland's best folk groups ever.

Nigel Gatherer, 30 Jun 2005

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