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Scotland in music

Review by Edward Scott Pearlman

Listeners love it, but so do the performers. Transatlantic Sessions is a dream concert series that has brought together a changing cast of about 25 of the best folk musicians from Scotland, Ireland and America for television programs, CDs and live concerts.

Each year's TV series is set in a different country house, lodge or hotel in Scotland, where the musicians stay and record six or seven half-hour shows: a "house band" for each series – all gifted musicians in their own right – backing up the featured performers, which change from show to show. The result, as you might expect, is a delightful and engaging fusion of musical cultures and instruments that sounds both familiar and entirely new.

"Where you have great musicians all gathered together into one room and making music, a sum bigger than the parts happens. You get magic in the room," said the sound engineer for the project, Iain Hutchison. "It all comes together and you’re sitting there with goosebumps."

Scottish fiddler Aly Bain has been co-hosting the series since 1995. That first year, Aly's musical co-director was American fiddler Jay Ungar, who played with the house band that year and contributed musical selections such as two of his most famous folk compositions, "Ashokan Farewell" and "Lovers’ Waltz." Totaling more than three hours of music, the programs included amazing pairings of performers from both sides of the Atlantic, such as Dougie MacLean and Kathy Mattea, or Dick Gaughan and Emmylou Harris. To mention just a few of the other musicians, the Scots that year included Rod Paterson, Karen Matheson and Simon Thoumire; Americans included Mark O’Connor, Iris DeMent and Rufus Wainwright; and from Ireland came Cathal McConnell, Manus Lunny and Davy Spillane.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2013 issue of Scottish Life.

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