by Bea Willis
Highlands & Houston, is the title of a new album that combines traditional Scottish and Celtic sounds with Texas blues and fifties rock-n-roll. Texas guitarist Michael Hurdle teamed up with Scottish fiddler Paul Anderson to create Highlands & Houston. Anderson is a musical rarity in more ways than one, not only is he a remarkably able fiddler, but he is able to blend many styles while holding true to the Scottish sound. Hurdle is tasteful guitarist that has a strong ear for melody and creating ambient texture. Together they bring us music that is remarkably organic and subtle in its complexities.
Within this unlikely framework, there is delightful playing offered up, with notable blues and fifties rock-n-roll influence. “Cabin Fever” starts the CD, a Hurdle original, the open sound of hurdles clean bell-like guitar figure sets up the relaxed groove. The bass and drums enter and the band is off. The music is more about setting up a feeling and texture and outright melodic statements. Anderson’s fiddle provides an upper register melody that floats over the various shuffle grooves. The ethereal production improves upon the ambient feel.
The instrumental playing on this album is a splendid study in less is more. Although everyone is more than sufficient to justify a more virtuosic approach, effort is put more on the overall musical sonorities first. For example, “Window in the Clouds” opens with Hurdle playing a rubato chord melody on his Strat, slowly building to a fifties rock-n-roll influence twelve eight feel. Anderson’s fiddle sound is warm and flowing, with just a hint of vibrato. The music feeling set up by this track is relaxing and the Celtic mix with the fifties rock-n-roll sound real does work! The double time feel section has a very nice fiddle solo by Anderson, his brilliance is evident and apparent.
“The Rose of Glen Davan,” an Anderson original, is a beautiful fiddle melody. Anderson’s violin sound is authentic, flawless intonation and a subtle Scottish attitude, gives the tune its beauty and delight. Even though this track is short, it is a nice break that further supports the theme of the album, Anderson’s phrasing is very lyrical and this duet is a treat to hear on this wonderful collaboration between like-minded musicians.
Tracks to sample first: “Cabin Fever,” “Window in the Clouds,” “The Rose of Glen Davan” and “River Road.” The song to take a chance on is “A Song from Charlotte.”