Album Review - Battlefield Band / Room Enough For All

Battlefield Band have been the flagship band of Scottish traditional music for what feels like years now. Literally. The band has been around since 1969 and has over 30 albums released. No original members remain at this point, as the band's basically been adopted by a new generation of Scottish traditionalists. That's a pretty wonderful thing, and it makes me wonder what will happen when The Chieftains get too old to tour as much as they do. Hopefully a new generation will take up the mantle and do as good a job with the music and the traditions as Battlefield Band has. On their new album, Room Enough For All, the four young-ish artists in Battlefield Band – piper Mike Katz, fiddler Alasdair White, guitarist/vocalist Sean O'Donnell, and multi-instrumentalist Ewen Henderson – channel the tradition to make interesting points about life in trad music today. Opening song, "Bagpipe Music," is drawn from a satirical 1930s Irish poem written Louis MacNeice about the modern age encroaching on Old Scotland. It's a strange nonsense song, but there's a hard edge underneath that points to the push-and-pull folk artists face today, and have always faced, between selling out to the mainstream culture or stepping back to the old traditions. On the album, it's a masterful blend between the silly folk songs so often expected of Celtic artists and a song with very subtle and biting satire.


Of course, Highland bagpipe tunes abound here, as this album is a piece of traditional Scottish culture through and through. Highland bagpipes can be a bit hard to handle at times, mainly due to their volume and power (ever been to a house concert with Highland pipes? You should see the blast circles that open up in the audience when the piper starts up...), but here the pipes are mixed so well into the rest of the band that it's a delight rather than a chore to listen to their music. I personally love the interplay between Highland pipes and Scottish fiddling, and the duo of Mike Katz and Ewen Henderson on the second track do not disappoint. I was wondering about having two fiddlers in a band, but the duets on a brace of tunes starting with "The Garron Trotting" put those doubts to rest. Henderson and Alasdair White trade off tunes and jump in feet first together, matching each other note for note. Two fiddlers in this case, are a lot better than one! Having two singers as well proves to be a plus. Whereas O'Donnell is fabulous on the opening song, Henderson's singing on the old Scottish Gaelic sailing song "Duanag an t-Seòladair," is one of the best tracks on the album, with Henderson's weathered voice perfectly fitting the role of a salty old sailor pining for his love.

All told, Battlefield Band's new album, Room Enough For All, is a masterful look at Scottish traditional music today, highlighting both the old traditions and new ideas inspired by their Scottish roots. If you're not familiar with Battlefield Band, this is your chance to fix that.

Battlefield Band. Room Enough For All. 
2013. Temple Records.

 

 

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