RELEASE DATE: April 8 2013

By Andy Doerr

Battlefield Band - Room Enough for AllThe Battlefield Band recently played on my show the Roadtunes Sessions on KCSB FM 91.9 at UC Santa Barbara and by happy coincidence soon after I was asked to write this, my first ever, review.

The Battlefield Band has a storied history beginning in 1969 and counts as one of the bands that, along with the Tannahill Weavers in Scotland and bands like The Bothy Band and Planxty in Ireland, brought a spirit of innovation to traditional music and thereby brought this regional folk music to a much broader audience. Their latest release, Room Enough for All, continues in that spirit and the current lineup of Michael Katz, Alasdair White, Ewen Henderson, and Sean O’Donnell continue the band’s longstanding tradition of moving “forward with Scotland’s past.”

The recording gets off to a rousing start with Sean singing Bagpipe Music a song penned by Irish poet Louis MacNeice in the 1930s, that at first reminded me of a nonsense song like Bedlam Boys covered by Old Blind Dogs among others, but is in fact about, as MacNeice himself stated, the “cultural decline of the highlands” and the attendant collision between folk culture and the spread of urban culture into the rural north. Like the song In Contempt by Aaron Kramer, also on this record, but very different in presentation, Bagpipe Music takes its place in the long line of Scottish activist songs, that transcend the local and give voice to the universal struggle for justice and dignity as the times are inexorably a changin’

Bagpipe Music is followed by an instrumental set that, like the others on this record, is a truly masterful blending of tune types from a march, Major George Morrison, to a couple of jigs, Nighean na Cailliche and The Pneumatic Drills, with some of the puirt a beul or mouth music thrown in for good measure by Ewen, who sings in Scots Gaelic and also wrote the latter tune. Another example of this kind of set is The Garron Trotting / Glengarry / Cawdor Fair / The Merry Lads of Air / The Cuckoo, which starts with three most Scottish strathspeys and then leads into a reel repurposed as a polka!

Ewen’s fine singing in Gaelic is also on display in the song Nic Coiseam the story of a forester and the places he visited with his old gun in hand. I particularly like the timbre of Ewen’s voice. In fact, the singing of Ewen and Sean along with the skillful deployment of the various instruments the band members have ready access to give this CD a tonal richness that makes each cut a sonic journey that’s both delightful and rigorous at the same time. It goes without saying, though I’ll say it here anyway, that this richness is the work of seasoned musicians and fine production in the studio.

Battlefield Band - A' Bhriogais Uallach (The Pompous Trousers)"

Starting on a more somber note, the set of Ceann Loch an Dùin / Cha Toirinn Coig Peighinn Oire / The Heridiean Polka takes us from a slow air to a schottische, to a polka. In the process we travel from the melody of a song that’s a rumination on a much loved lakeshore in the Outer Hebrides and the singer’s wish to be buried there to two dance tunes whose rhythms are forthright and full of life. It should be noted here that fiddler Alasdair White is himself a Lewis man. The arrangement here showcases his and Ewen’s playing on fiddle and, as the full ensemble chimes in, it brings to mind a hall filled with dancers casting its light into the darkness of an island winter at the edge of the vastness of the grey Atlantic.

Indeed, we next head out over the ocean and into its depths with the set comprised of the reels The Hairy Angler Fish written by Alasdair, Peter the Dolphinmaster by Michael, and the Sound of Sleat from Pipe Major Donald McKinnon who served in Korea with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. Why Alasdair wrote a tune for a “majestically ugly creature of the deep” I failed to ask when I had him in the studio. The Dolphinmaster is dedicated to Peter Boond founder of the Scottish band Coelbeg of which Mike was a member and who died while this record was being made. The set starts with Alasdair and Ewen on fiddles soon powered by Sean’s chunky crunchy rhythm guitar, before bringing in the pipes with Mike kicking the set into high gear to create a truly joyous sound. Rain, sleet, or snow, the sound of it makes me smile every time I hear it!

The record closes with Tynes in Overtime a tune written by Mike and Ewen and named for place kicker Lawrence Tynes, who played for the New York Giants and is the only Scots-born player to win a Super Bowl ring! The tune is a distinctly modern take on traditional music with a complex rhythmic groove laid down by Mike on bass, Sean on guitar, and Robin Morton sitting in on bodhran and bass drum.

Forward with Scotland’s past to fine effect throughout; this is indeed a fine recording in the long tradition of the Battlefield Band and Temple Records!

Andy Doerr produce the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention and Festival in Goleta (Sunday, October 13, 2013) and hosts the Roadtunes Sessions on KCSB FM 91.9 at UC Santa Barbara.