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Ryan Young. Photo credit: SRADAG Creative

Ryan Young – Just a Second, a review

Scottish fiddler Ryan Young's second album showcases a triumphant return after overcoming illness.

Release Date
27 October 2023
Ryan Young - Just a Second
Scottish fiddler Ryan Young overcame illness affecting his hand to create Just a Second, a compelling blend of traditional Celtic tunes and innovative styles. His second album, rich in lyrical and technical mastery, traverses Scottish, Irish, and Cape Breton traditions, marking a triumphant return.

Scottish fiddle player, Ryan Young, released his debut in 2017. It was a wonderful thing – inventive and lyrical, impeccably played, merging traditional tunes with a wide range of Celtic playing styles. No one was all that surprised when he was nominated for countless awards, including the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, nor that he won the Up and Coming Artist Award at the Scots Trad Awards. 

As he was preparing himself to record Just a Second, fittingly his second album, he was struck down with an illness that affected his left hand. He was unable to play his beloved fiddle and, eventually, had to relearn how to play. All of which resulted in a prolonged delay in getting this tremendous album out.

Beyond the obvious pun, there’s something incredibly fitting about the title of this album, something that asks you to wait, to pause. Just as Young was forced to rebuild, so, time and again through this record, we are forced to breathe, to appreciate what is around us.

The album starts slowly, emerging very gently from its shell, almost as though Young is testing the waters, flexing his fingers. ‘Woo’ed An Married An A’ is a jig from circa 1750s but is the most stately jig that you can imagine. Young’s fiddle elegantly traces the finest of filigree circles, breathy and light as air. The influence of Scottish fiddle players is palpable but there’s something else there too. Martin Hayes is one of Young’s great inspirations so, perhaps, it is no great surprise that the Celtic influence reaches across the Irish Sea. The opening set ends with ‘Fingal’s Cave’, another trad tune and another taken at a slower pace. If this opening set is a way of re-introducing us to his singular talent then it entirely works its magic.

It is traditional Scottish dance music for the perpetually heartbroken. 

The hesitant pace continues with the second set but, this time, there’s no testing of the waters. On ‘Willie Macrae’s Jig/The Monday Morning Reel’, Young plays the windswept, brooding romantic, wanting to dance but too awkward, too otherworldly to throw himself into the arms of others. His fiddle playing is mournful and yearning, dripping with exquisite loneliness. Only Craig Irving’s subtly strummed guitar keeps him company and, even then, it seems to be at a respectful distance. It is traditional Scottish dance music for the perpetually heartbroken. 

As much as these slow jigs and reels are incredibly beautiful, you are, by now, aching for a change of pace, to see what Young can do when he puts his foot down. The traditional Irish tune, ‘The Bird’s Nest’, almost explodes into life. It is hugely upbeat, the fiddle simply chasing in circles, kicking up its heels for the sheer fun of it. Irving’s guitar lopes, playfully, by its side. Young seems to be saying, “look at this, I can still do it”. It’s a celebration. The Scottish ’S Iomadh Rud A’ Chunnaic Mi’ has just as much joy, the tune pinging off, leaping into the air. 

With a quickly stolen moment to catch our breath – ‘Ben Lomond’ is summery, light, bird-like – Just A Second launches itself into the finest set on the album. ‘The Fox’ starts as, virtually, a solo fiddle piece; there are echoes of a nursery rhyme, that sense of mischievousness again peeking through. By the time Young reaches ‘Flora MacDonald’s’ his fiddle is absolutely flying so that ‘Little Donald In The Pigpen’ entirely takes off. This wild barn dance raises dust from the dance floor and shakes off the earlier shy awkwardness. Young has found his feet and is loving the sounds his fiddle can make.

The variation in tone that he can get from that instrument is particularly remarkable on ‘The Sailor’s Wife’. This eighteenth-century jig has a call and response. High and low fiddle sounds converse, appearing to bicker and coo. Young is in perfect control, deftly providing the female and male “voices”. As he finds the joy across these tunes, so do we until it becomes hard to suppress a grin.

Perhaps it is on the ‘Bang Your Frog On The Sofa/Mrs MacGugan’s Rant/ Knit The Pocky’ set that the grin slides into a full, twinkle-eyed smile. A proper foot-tapper, this is excited and exuberant, the fiddle sweeping you off of your feet, wildly throwing you around. The tunes nag at you, dislodging memories that you can’t quite put your finger on but that you love anyway. Young’s technical ability is simply jaw-dropping, the pace frantic, dizzying, triumphant.

Just A Second is an album that traverses so many of the finest Celtic traditions. There are moments inspired by Scotland, Ireland and the playing from Cape Breton. Ultimately, though, it is an album that announces, loudly, the welcome return of a seriously good fiddle player.

Just a Second by Ryan Young was released on October 27th. It can be ordered directly from the artist’s website: ryanyoung.scot.