Review Archive

James Duncan Mackenzie - self-titled solo album from inspirational piper and composer

(July 03, 2013)

There is something compulsively haunting, mysterious and passionate about the skirl of the pipes – James Duncan Mackenzieeven to an Englishman’s ears. Rarely has an instrument encompassed so much of its nation’s myth, legend and memories, nor chronicled its stories so emphatically and effectively.The self-titled debut solo album from James Duncan Mackenzie continues that narrative and along the way shows off his inspired skill as a piper and composer.

Taking inspiration from the landscape and history of his birthplace the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, combining experiences and influences, adding traditional tunes plus those from renowned composers, this is an album of enchantment, mystery and expression. Opening with a sparkling quartet called ‘Smelling Fresh’ reflects some personal stories, the enigmatically titled ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ (story explained in the sleeve notes) combines self-penned waltz and jig forms plus an expressive tune from highly-regarded composer Pipe Major Donald Macleod, while another Mackenzie original ‘Second Sight’, employs the otherworldly tone of the wooden flute to embrace the supernatural essence that pervades the Hebrides.

There’s a lively trio of self-penned jigs ‘Eyes to the Sky’, the gentle expression of ‘Anna Mackenzie’s’ and an enthralling collection of Lewis-inspired strathspeys and reels from both the written and oral tradition (again, the sleeve notes explain all) plainly titled ‘Strathspeys and Reels’ . And when James plays the closing track 'Lament for the Iolaire', another Donald Macleod tune, you will hear one of the most evocative and moving laments.

Experience the diversity of temperament and touch, absorb the essence of the inspiration and influences … and you’ll begin to sound the depths of this album, and recognise the talent of James Duncan Mackenzie -

Adding their expertise to this singularly memorable collection of tunes are Matheu Watson (guitar) Sean Gray (guitar) Alasdair White (fiddle) Hamish Napier (piano, harmonium) Robert Nairn (three row button key accordion) and James Lindsay (double bass).

Reviewer: Tim Carroll

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