by Ferell Aubre
American guitar player Michael Hurdle and Scottish fiddle player Paul Anderson keep their Celtic-meets-Texas synergy simple yet effective on their debut album together, Highlands & Houston. The eleven tracks on the CD are a combination of originals, most are by Hurdle, and arrangements of well-known Scottish tunes.
Hurdle provides a series of contrasting compositions for Anderson’s unlimited variations on the Fiddle. While Hurdle is a master of the bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll Texas vibe, Anderson is given the space to let his fiddle playing enjoy its own life and meaning. The two together work surprisingly well and the music is very organic in sound and feel.
On “Cabin Fever” Hurdle begins the selection with a clear sounding guitar figure with plenty of Texas attitude. The groove has a strong back beat and Hurdle’s chordal movement creates a full texture for Anderson’s fiddle. The composition has a nice flow with varying sections and feels. Hurdle’s compositional style is one of less is more, which allows the music to breath and each musical moment to stand out with more brilliance. Anderson’s relaxed fiddle playing adds a real unique color to the music, he is always playing beautiful melodies, where written or improvised.
“The Rose of Glen Davan,” is an Anderson original that is all Scottish and fittingly features Anderson playing a duet with himself. The counterpoint is rich and his tone is beautiful on the fiddle. This piece adds a different quality entirely and hits the traditional Irish folk song vibe right on the head.
Hurdle’s original “Fond Memories” has a hauntingly beautiful progression with a melody to match. Inventively this track will win you over with the 50’s style rock feel and arpeggio style paired with an Irish infused melody. Anderson’s phrasing is particularly lyrical, he deploys tactically precise pitch over Hurdles’ arpeggiated chords.
“A Song from Charlotte” is an elegant ballad that embraces minimalism as the many moving part come together sublimely. Elisha Jordan provides the vocals with original music and lyrics by Hurdle. This selection would certainly work in a secular and non-secular environment, because of the powerful lyrics. Hurdle’s nylon-strung guitar playing is very nice.
A standout track on the album giving the release one of its jazz flavors, is “Gypsy Joe.” A distinctly Latin tune, with beautifully played nylon strung guitar. The melody is catchy and memorable overall. Certainly, easy on the ears. I can picture it easily as a movie soundtrack, and from Hurdles bio it seems he is quite involved on that side of the industry as a songwriter who has gotten many of his tunes placed on tv, films and advertisements.
Overall, Highlands & Houston is a feel-good album, with good old-fashioned musicality and a cross-cultural appeal. I can’t squarely fit it in a category; as it features a mix of jazz, world, Latin, Celtic and a bit of Americana. What I can say is; it’s a nice journey of solid listening.