‘The Elusive Highland Beauty’ from The Elephant Sessions “… unbounded spectrum of shimmering music”(July 07, 2014)
There’s that instant when you hear something and you know it’s going to stay with you for a long time to come. It’s that often hard-to-find ‘I’m going to love this’ moment. ‘The Elusive Highland Beauty’, the debut album from The Elephant Sessions falls squarely into that category. The band call themselves a ‘neo-trad quintet’, well that’s alright by me, call yourself what you will, but to my ears this is five highly-skilled, creative musicians freely mixing whatever aural colours intrigue their collective musical pallets into an unbounded spectrum of shimmering music.
It has been said that any instrumental album ‘stands or falls on what it lacks, that most versatile instrument of all, the human voice’. Well that doesn’t apply to this instrumental album. ‘The Elusive Highland Beauty’ lacks nothing and needs no more than it already offers. It’s brimming with outstanding levels of innovation, inventiveness and discovery wrapped around a touchable energy that pervades every track. And what you hear first time is definitely not all you get. The intricacy of this music is such that every time you listen another facet shines through – currently still listening and still finding more.
The Elephant Sessions engages you first with ‘Ainya’s’ and in a few seconds you know you’re listening to something exceptional as the tune jaunts to unexpected places, then before long you’re heading into the superbly constructed abundance of ‘The Elusive Highland Beauty’. This music thrives on the dash of fiddle, guitar and mandolin duelling with one another, while bass and drums lay down an attention-grabbing barrage, add synths and piano to the brew, and you have a mix that intoxicates.
With the suite of tunes that form ‘The Treble’ the band embarks on another journey through their diverse repertoire – from the stately portents of power in ‘Chase’through the darker snaking auguries of ‘Sinners’ to the exhilarating form and presence of ‘The Empress’ – imagination flies free. With yet more of their ever-changing experimentation, allowing just enough time to breathe with an intro of softly soothing strings, ‘The Sea Tune’ too takes off into another maelstrom of sound.
The Elephant Sessions are Euan Smillie (fiddle) Alasdair Taylor (mandolin) Mark Bruce (guitars) Seth Tinsley (bass) Greg Barry (drums, vox) Colin Train (synths, vox) and Chris Waite (piano, whistles).
The Elephant Sessions morph traditional instruments and tunes into an amalgam of synthesised exploration built around their own eclectic expression; and the result is ‘The Elusive Highland Beauty’ … it’s stunning and ultimately elusive.
Reviewer: Tim Carroll