Classed as one of the leading exponents of the clarsach, Rachel Hair already has four albums to her name, both as a soloist and with her highly successful trio. For her latest release, she has teamed up with guitarist and fiddle player Ron Jappy to create an electrifying duo that is keen to break down preconceptions while staying grounded in the rich musical traditions they have grown up with. An engaging mix of traditional tunes and contemporary compositions, this exciting new pairing have created a well-balanced album that perfectly showcases both instruments and instrumentalists to their full capacity.
The album kicks off with a set of light and lively jigs. The crisp articulation of the harp melody compliments the percussive quality of the guitar very well and the constant variations in the accompaniment create the impression of an ever-evolving arrangement that seems to be very natural and organic. The transition from tune two to three in particular has a nice sense of lift. Track three is a complete contrast, a beautiful tune by Moray born but Brittany based musician Calum Stewart. Much more contemplative in mood, the guitar adds an extra depth without being intrusive in what feels more introspective than many other tracks.
The pace changes completely to some driving reels, including an excellent one from the pen of James Scott Skinner. The guitar accompaniment really sets the feel here, pushing the tempo forward with the help of Adam Brown on bodhran. After a lilting set of jigs, The Proofreader comes as a bit of a surprise to the ears. A lively hornpipe full of bounce and energy, this reminds me of the hornpipes of Newcastle fiddle player James Hill. Another complete change of style and mood follows with a composition of Rachel’s written for a friend’s wedding anniversary. The more modal tonality and syncopated melody makes this track really stand out from the rest of the album and highlights Rachel’s incredibly skills as a tunesmith. The final track is a pair of slower tunes, starting with a lovely Manx lullaby. Rachel has been an integral part of the revival in Manx traditional music and still regularly teaches on the island.
This album really does tick all the boxes, an exquisite mix of style and musicality that is well paced and balances virtuosity with reflection. The interplay between the rhythmic nature of the guitar with the fluidity of the harp creates a sense of energy and vitality that must be infectious in a live setting. Rachel and Ron are gigging throughout July and August and are well worth catching if you get the chance.