McKay and Stout Serve Harp and Fiddle Splendor


White Nights

McKay Stout Music 001

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Try slapping a genre on the latest harp/fiddle collaboration between Catriona McKay and Chris Stout. Go ahead—I dare you! The opening notes of Stout’s echoing and melancholy fiddle are a lament, but are played with the hand of a classical master, and McKay’s ambient harp can only be called an outpouring of spontaneous emotion. Then it’s off to Norway on “Isflak” in a set that starts off Scottish, has a gorgeous harp bridge from McKay, jumps into a lively dance tempo, slides into a jazzy interlude, and finishes with a flourish in which Stout’s rapid fingering is matched by McKay flying down the strings. Later we get “Edges & High Water,” in which you’ll hear a bit of everything: experimental soundscaping, free-form jazz, breathtaking harp runs, bounced bow passages that melt into soaring fiddle swoops, and lots of the “edges” promised in the title. McKay’s playing is a revelation. McKay has liberated the harp akin to what Natalie Haas has done for cello. McKay grabs gorgeous and soulful leads, as she does on the delicate “Eira,” but she also takes the instrument out of the drawing room and turns it into a funky percussive instrument, which we hear to great effect on “Roddy Sinclair.” The album is a superb mix of complex arrangements such as the title track, and quieter tunes like the slowed-down “Da Trow’s Jig,” and the bittersweet “A Home Under Every Tree,” which McKay composed for a silent Norwegian film about a runaway. This nine-track marvel ends with the fragile “Michaelswood,” in which fiddle and harp encounter each other with the delicacy of crystal goblets being wrapped for side-by-side storage. Here’s the only label you need: a stunning collaboration of brainy and beautiful music.

Check out this short sample.