|Battlefield Band - Rain, Hail or Shine||Star Rating *****|
|TEMPLE RECORDS COMD2074||Reviewer: Brendan Carson|
After almost thirty years on the road and having gone through several transformations it is amazing that the band still surprises and delights and this album is no exception.
The current line up is Alan Reid (Vocals and keyboards), John McCusker (Fiddle and just about every other instrument under the sun), Mike Katz (pipes and whistles), and Davy Steele (Vocals, guitar, bodhran and bouzouki). This is an example of young and older musicians blending together in perfect harmony.
This is a recording of great arrangements - changeovers with lift and power and a tasteful use of modern and trad. Bass and keyboards give a great depth to the fiddle and pipes and the production by Robin Morton (formerly of Boys of the Lough) is outstanding.
John, whose mother hails from County Monaghan, is a young fiddler of serious talent and has won several prestigious awards for his playing. His fiddle is mellow and sweet on slow airs, as in his playing of Margaret Ann, but he demonstrates precision, power and panache on the up-tempo tunes. He has penned several of the tunes on this CD and his composing is outstanding. He has achieved all the feel of the traditional and is fully in keeping with the Scots idiom exemplified by Manor Park and Trip to the Bronx.
The vocalists, Davy and Alan, have that great Scots lilt to their voices and have mesmerised me. Jenny O' the Braes, written by Alan is a great addition to the tradition. A modern theme of loneliness tempered with a feel that the song has been around forever.
They have a very long set where they string together a slow air, a song, and a set comprising march and Jigs. The air, Magheracloone, named after the parish that John's mother came from is a bit too similar to some of Clannad's stuff (like the theme from Harry's Game) for my liking but it blends in beautifully with one of the great songs in the Scots Tradition.
Norland Wind, written by Violet Jacob in 1915, is a favourite among many Scots singers. Davy sings it with passion and his singing is surrounded with excellent accompaniment on low whistle and fiddle from John. Ulster Scots folk will love this rendition. The set finishes off with an unusual march followed by a couple of jigs. I'm never really happy about this kind of arrangement as I believe it takes away from the song - words need time for the mind to savour and digest them but a fine set of tunes nevertheless.
I love the sound of the small pipes and Wee Michael's March (also written by John) allows Mike Katz to show off the instrument's potential and he then heads off into a lovely Shetland tune accompanied with simple but effective bodhran and bassy keyboards.
The selection is finished off with four tunes. Mike shows that John is not the only competent composer with two of the set written by him - Steamboat to Detroit and Twenty Pounds of Gin. This set is a real treat for lovers of the pipes with sharp and precise playing. Every note is as clear as a bell with the usual tasteful accompaniment.
Musically this is as good as it gets - BUY IT.
As a postscript I should mention that they have a very clever add on to the record. Stick the CD into your CD ROM drive and get video clips, band history, discography and links to the web site. This is a brilliant idea and I was delighted to see some of the old faces from the bands previous incarnations. It reminded me of a session in the Quarterdeck in the Fiddlers in Portaferry when I was treated to some amazing playing by a Dr McDonald from Cape Breton Island who turned out to be the brother of Iain McDonald then playing with the band. It's a small world!
You should also visit their web site which is well constructed with loads of information about the band: