Barry Reid – Breathing Space: Album Review

Euphoric blend of trad, dance and expert musicianship from Barry Reid, where organic meets electronic.

Release date: 2nd March 2022

Record label: Self released (Bandcamp)

Format: CD/ digital

There are a fair few good Reids in the book of Scottish music, thinking of Charlie and Craig from Leith, aka the Proclaimers, and the unrelated fiddlers, Patsy, ex-Breabach and innumerable sessions, and Jenna, the Shetland wiz hard on her heels. And then there’s Alan Reid, the lynchpin of the mercurial Battlefield Band from 1969 to 2010. Less well known is Brian, although he has built up a head of steam as a guitarist for Treacherous Orchestra, that maelstrom of instrumental virtuosi, and Croft No. 5, earlier still masters of blending the trance with the trad. This is his first solo outing, I believe, although his name is also familiar from his other work as a producer and sound engineer. Adept on keyboards as well as guitar, he also programmes for aural effect and utilises all manner of studio electrickery. The result is a sensitive blend of organic sound: strings and found sound, with the manufactured. Of course, I am shying away here from the lazy catch-all of gaelictronica, but that isn’t a bad reference point, I guess, if lighter than the techno heuch of Niteworks, having more a trance feel, one that makes for a delectable listen.

Largely his own work, beavering away in his own Rose Croft Studios, in Muir of Old, he has also called on a number of chums to fill out additional textures. So we get the fiddles of Innes Watson, Laura Wilkie and Lauren MacColl, the flute of Hamish Napier and the whistles of the mighty Ali Hutton, each of whom he has worked with at some stage, and whose names may be known from these pages. (Patsy Reid gets a mention in the credits but does not appear, having me sense some familial linkage afoot.) Beautifully put together and produced, this is a perfect marriage of playing and precision studio prestidigitation.

Better Days, as in there will always be, introduces both the album and the palette available, with a thrurr of revolving sequencer and some wonderfully clattery percussion, ahead of some barely amplified guitar picking, much like the cascading babble of water from a falls in springtime. A joyous and hopeful melody, with a middle section of arced synths breaking through like the sun. A reprise of the guitar motif and I’m fully engaged, the ending dancing all about the channels. The Unknown then starts with some sombre piano beckons in the fiddle of the first guest, Laura Wilkie, of the Kinnaris Quintet. The backing is the piano and the similar clattering percussion, a gradual sweeping hiss of synthesiser adding texture. The fiddle here is in full dance mode, actually a highland fling rather than anything more alarming, as the build behind goes the full euphoria, the contrasts comfortably mingled. Very much more Fairy Pools than Dark Cuillin, although we are here on the mainland, Ross and Inverness-shire.

If If Six Was Twelve does sound a bit redolent of a certain song title by Jimi Hendrix, you wouldn’t be far wrong. Except, of course, the genre, but it is, nonetheless an ode to him. Starting with an almost classic house keyboard figure, the main instrument here is the flute of Hamish Napier, soaring overhead, vying to take away the attention from the hypnotic rhythmic push of the sub-melody. This is proving a treat of listening, making me want to open the windows and treat my neighbours to the pleasure. (I didn’t, more’s their loss.) The title track is a touch more reflective, with woody billows of squelchy synth evoking a woodland walk, more of Reid’s sublime guitar picking up the reins as we deepen into the forest. Sampled bird sound adds to the feel of being out and about, wrapped up warm and relishing the possibly inclement weather. The mix of man with machine is as natural as I think I have ever heard.

Lauren MacColl has an altogether chewier tone to her fiddle than Wilkie, which offers a denser tone to Shifting Baseline. Which, yes, of course, it has a shifting bass line too, courtesy of more burbling synth. Harmonium adds to the overall effect of, as I may have said before, lightness in step. I’ll say it again. With Time Lord whooshes aplenty, MacColl weaves in and out of pole position, before the tune ends with slow peals of piano. Still, the next track, is literally awash with found sounds, recorded by Reid himself, on his forays about his landscape. The lapping water of various river and lochsides, waves on the beach, birdsong and the wind, gusting through trees, all of these combine for a two-minute reverie, breaking the album into half. The purpose of the piece is to show absence of any of the sounds of man, one of the pleasures discovered by many during lockdown. The Firth replays many of these sounds, particularly waves and water, a track with a more aggressive attack, Innes Watson’s fiddle a propulsion in itself. If anyone feels all fiddle is the same, come listen here to the contrasting styles of the three different players employed over this project, they being no similar than guitar solos all sound the same.

Ă™ine A Dh’Falbhe translates as Times Gone By, and the redolence of a steam train, especially in the boom shtick of the percussion, is the mood evoked. Fittingly, the sound of rain here comes from an abandoned track. Napier is back on flute, his woodwind like fountains of steam from the smokestack. The shorter flourish of Uplift brings back Watson on fiddle, which, with the emphatic synthesiser swathes, conjures up echoes, somehow, of Europ’s Final Countdown. Possibly just to me. This is the most conventionally electro track here, the percussion just that little bit too orderly. Rather than a complaint, it emphasises the otherwise superb use of Ableton push drums used throughout this recording.

The Lonesome Pine has nothing to do with Laurel and Hardy, being in praise of those brave solitary trees that lean into the wind across the highlands and islands, there against the odds and a testimony to the resilience of nature. Indeed, it is the wind that is the first sound here, before Reid’s guitar picks up his by now familiar style, sweeps of choral keyboards framing the vista. With the percussion again that woody clatter, it is Lauren MacColl’s fiddle that now takes a turn, the sway resplendent against the majestic backing. More guitar and then, triumphantly comes the sound of a whistle from between the trees, Ali Hutton at his most haunting, bringing up the goosebumps that have threatened throughout. With all the instruments playing their separate tunes together, a climax is gently approached, before a sudden and insistent nothing, that silence deafening. Wow.

I can’t believe this is Reid’s first work on his own. It is a mature and masterful construct of nature combining with all the gadgets of 21st-century studio chicanery, that manages to leave the inescapable feeling of quite who is in charge of the other. I think we will be hearing more from this fella.

Here’s If Six Was Twelve, featuring Hamish Napier.

Barry Reid online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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