Scottish music generally and bagpipe music particularly seems to be having a resurgence and making an assault on the world scene which is not an easy thing to do. It could be argued that of all the folk instruments, the drones polarise opinion like a musical version of Marmite.
|Scott Wood Band. Picture Somhairle MacDonald|
Spice of Life comes in like a battle scene from Braveheart. SWB wants you to know they are here and they comes with bagpipes. The band seems to be part of a movement which is doing it's damnedest to make bagpipe music cool and be in the export market.
Once they have grabbed your attention the band tone it down slightly for Park Ridge with Scott Wood pulling out his whistle skills for a slightly less pacy instrumental.
This is a really light and dancing tune and at it's core is a real traditional sound but it's been encased in a pop-style wrapping with drums, electronics and electric guitars. Craro picks up the pace again giving the sound a punchier, funkier almost jazz sound which then blends into the more ethereal highland sound with the violins taking centre stage on this one.
The bagpipes are back for Sheep Running About providing a pacey front layer for again the funk style back times. You have to give it to Wood, Mhairi MacKinnon, Ron Jappy, Angus Tikka and Mark Scobbie they never short change the listener. They do sooner or later try to cram in as much sound as they can into the tracks. There is a lovely blending of pipes and strings for Looking Through Portnahaven which give the tune an emotional and doleful sound.
What the drones do is provide a bridge for the second part of the track is which pretty close to a hoedown sound.
Oddly enough there is an interlude where you almost expect to see footage of a potter's wheel or of weaving going on as the gentle guitar playing gives you a breather. This is followed by All The 8s which kicks off with a very eighties pop sound before the pipes come in. The percussion in the background seems to intrude rather than complement the main sound and the two strands don't sit too well on the ear.
Wood seems to like this breaking up tunes into distinctive parts almost as if he wants to keep the listener on their toes.
The problem is with some of the tracks, and this is one of them, some of the sections are better than others and there are times when you can definitely see the joins.Wood really does blow a gorgeous tune out of his pipes, the notes as they float from his instrument can carry you over the waters of the lochs, up over the mountains and gliding over the heaths and heathers. Mr Sloan is one such track. His sounds is meshed perfectly with the strings adding a depth and another layer of emotive sound.
Unusually they keep this one on an even keel and provides a really deep and thoughtful tune. McCready's begins as a deeply brooding tune which the pipes being played in close to a menacing manner. If you listen carefully there is a constant drone in the background which seems to be keeping an eye on things all the way through the track. It's quite a heavy track and is reminiscent of something from Pink Floyd. It's one of those tunes where you think there should be
a slightly disturbing animated film to this. Davie Dunsmuir provides the impressive electric guitar.
This is a big track which has those trademark sections. The penultimate track Barber Ave is a real toe tapper with the pipes providing a pretty pacey layer front of house almost challenging the other instruments to keep up.
Although it goes out with the big finish, it's also traditional enough to evoke images of tartan clad dancers sprightly placing their pointed toes between strategically placed swords. Brookhall Bride goes out almost the opposite to the opener.
The gentle sound of the pipes play a soothing tune carried along almost reverently by the strings playing.
Wood has packed a lot into this album and most of it fits together perfectly but there is the odd piece which seems a little disparate but nothing major.
The band overall have managed to keep their feet planted firmly in the heather while adding a great many other influences into their music to produce and album which has got a great deal going for it.
Upsurge is out now on Oak Ridge Records.