Up until the 20th century, crofter’s cottages across the Highlands and Islands were roofed with thatch tied together with handmade rope. The thawcrook was the tool used to twist grass, reeds or whatever other natural fibres were available into the twine, and it’s from this that the debut album from Scottish duo Rebecca Hill and Charlie Stewart takes its name.
Decade-long acquaintances and award winning musicians on harp and fiddle respectively, Thawcrook sees them splice traditional and modern tunes together to create a captivating and joyful nine tracks. Despite the album consisting of just the two instruments (plus one guest spot from singer Mischa MacPherson), it often sounds like it has more than two musicians playing live on it.
This is in no small part thanks to Hill’s inventiveness and assured touch as an accompanist and occasional leader. Choice harmonisation lends a depth to the tunes floating above them, such as the graceful but free spirited strathspey Angus Grant’s.
Trading off this deft harp work, Stewart’s incredible tone and a technique that allows him to move effortlessly from light touch high harmonics to meaty double stops sends the duo soaring. This can be heard equally on the likes of the contemplative Iorram Iomraimh and the conclusion of the Higher Ground set which sees the duo engaged in a breathtaking race to the finish line.
Another highlight is Out on the Roof, which starts by reaching down into the deep recesses of Stewart’s octave fiddle and gradually stretches skywards with sonorous double stops set against clean and well measured chords from Hill.
But possibly the best example of the fully intertwined arrangements suggested by the album’s title is Scotty O’Neill’s which features fine counterpoint between plucked fiddle and harp before launching effortlessly into playful jig Cailleach a’ Ghobhainn.
With both musicians already having a substantial career behind them in collaboration with others, Thawcrook marks a long-overdue stepping into the limelight in their own right.
A work of maturity and depth from two fine musicians who it would be doing a disservice to describe as emerging.
Released on CD and digitally on Lomond records April 28 2023. Mixed by Euan Burton.
1. On the Mountain
2. Angus Grant’s
3. Mi Le M’ Uilinn
4. Out on the Roof
5. Let That Stand There
6. Cailleach a’ Ghobhainn
7. Iorram Iomraimh
8. Higher Ground
9. Aonghais Oig (feat. Mischa MacPherson)