Norman Mackay “The Inventor”
Own Label, 2019
We all know what happened to the famous Thane of Cawdor. Well, here’s another Nairnshire lad who’s on track to be crowned Scotland’s button accordion king. This second “solo” album is all Norman’s own compositions. Although the button box fronts almost every track, it is joined by a pantheon of Scottish and other musicians: Megan Henderson, Kristan Harvey, Claire Campbell, Greg Lawson and Jani Lang on violins, Su-a Lee on cello, Duncan Lyall on bass, Jack Badcock on guitars, Lorne MacDougall on pipes and Toby Shippey on trumpet are the ones I recognise, but there are many more. Phil Alexander takes a piano solo on the final track, a reprise of the opening title piece, a waltz in the French style with scope for feeling as well as fancy fingerwork. There are a lot of waltzes on The Inventor, at least six, all different, from the unmistakably Scottish Mackenzie Cottage to the sultry Latin Monachil Waltz which belongs in a pirate film about burning another king’s Spanish mane and suchlike.
The Inventor keeps to a moderate tempo, nothing too fast, but the music is intense and demanding at times. Gentle pieces like the haunting air Ian Mackay and the graceful Coach House are balanced by the insistent slow reel Carly’s Trip to Ecclefechan (a sort of Scottish Shangri-La without the health benefits, but with more tarts) and the musing Gellatly’s March which gets an injection of highland bagpipes over a choral canvas of Edinburgh singers. On the march Missy of the Mhor, Mackay’s arrangement builds from a simple accordion melody to include piano and trumpet lines, a string section, and multiple harmonies. This album reaches its energetic climax – peak heuch, you might say – on the improbably-named Disco’s Inferno, a modern contrapuntal jig approaching ceilidh speed, with added banjo and percussion. In general, though, this is not music for letting your hair down: keep it up, lift it right off your ears, and really listen to Norman Mackay’s music, a dozen exquisite melodies arranged and presented here with rare skill.
© Alex Monaghan