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Jenna and Bethany Reid - Escape (Lofoten Records)

Star rating: 
4

Based on a little known incident that occurred in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of Norway, this part instrumental, part narrative suite was the brainchild of young Shetland fiddler and pianist Bethany Reid, who along with her sister Jenna, composed, arranged and performed this original suite of music, which is interspersed with atmospheric spoken dialogue written by Martyn McLaughlin.

Subtitled The Story of Jan Baalsrud and the Shetland Bus, narrator Phil Goodlad tells the story of a 26 year-old instrument maker and Norwegian Resistance member, who whilst exiled on the Shetland Isles, makes the treacherous 900 mile journey home with a small crew on an armed 75 foot vessel named the Brattholm (the Shetland Bus) in order to attack a Nazi air base on Norwegian soil. Betrayed by a nervous Norwegian shopkeeper, a bloodbath ensues, with only Baalsrud surviving after a gruelling sixty-four day ordeal, where the war hero faces the most appalling winter conditions, at one point even being forced to remove his own toes due to the threat of gangrene. 

Such a frightening tale is revealed in eleven instalments, spoken over the introductions to eleven musical pieces that make up ESCAPE, expertly played by sisters Jenna and Bethany, with the help from a fine supporting cast, including James Thomson on flute and pipes, Iain Sandilands on percussion and James Lindsay on double bass. As an orchestrated piece as a whole, the tempos change to mirror the pace of the narrative. On Bethany and Jenna's co-written Escape/The Double Cross for instance, the flighty fiddle runs completely reflect the notion of being on the run.

At times the suite comes over a little like a folk music version of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds or Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but with neither Wayne or Wakeman's progressive rock pretentions or repeated choruses. Neither do we have to endure Richard Burton or David Hemmings' deliberately affected theatrical histrionics, but instead we are treated to Goodlad's rich Shetland vernacular, which adds to the atmosphere created by these two gifted musical siblings.   

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky