R2 (Rock n Reel) Review – Stem The Tide ****

If Paul McKenna Band’s release, Between two Worlds, announced the arrival of a major new group on the Scottish traditional music scene, then this accomplished follow-up should seal their reputation as one of the most exciting outfits currently performing.

Stem The Tide has all the elements in place, with great songs, brilliant musicianship, a charismatic vocal performance and, most importantly, an evident delight in the music that’s effortlessly conveyed to the listener.  Centered on McKenna’s guitar and vocals, these exemplary musicians – David McNee (bouzouki), Ruaridh Macmillan (fiddle), Seán Gray (Flute) and Ewan Baird (bodhran) – have developed a strong rapport that’s immediately apparent.  It’s a collective performance that, while it’s as tight as the proverbial duck’s rear end, also has enough space for everyone to shine individually.

Whether performing emotionally-charged traditional songs (Again for Greenland), unapologetically political commentaries (Silent Majority), lovelorn ballads (The Lambs on the Green Hills) or brilliantly executed instrumentals, there’s an assuredness to their playing that, combined with their inventive arrangements, creates a sound that’s powerful and immediate.

With the band’s own material more than holding its own among Ewan MacColl’s powerful travelling song ‘Terror Time’ and Tim O’Brien’s ‘John Riley’, Stem The Tide is close to perfection.

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