Ah, Wolfstone. Where is thy sting?
Seriously, though, the latest CD from Scottish Celt-rock band Wolfstone is nice, well-played, musical, and utterly without the sting and power I've grown to expect from the boys with the bagpipes. It's as if Metallica suddenly did an album with a symphon…wait. Rethink that metaphor for a moment. It's as if the Indigo Girls suddenly did an album of Andrews Sisters covers. I'm sure they'd do it well, but…isn't something lost in the translation?
What's missing is the bagpipes. There's almost none on this CD, and without it Wolfstone is just another Celtic band, Altan with a tartan. The oomph is gone, and we can only hope they get it back, because Seven has a worse case of bland than This Strange Place.
What instrumentation there is is without peer. Duncan Chisholm's fiddle is flawless, from the traditional playing on "Maggie's" and "Psycho Woman" to the experimentation on "Quinie Fay Ryhnie.""Fingal's Cave" gets a trance overdub, and "J-Time" is Celtic funk (and there's two words you don't hear together very often). Andy Simmers' piano on "John Simmers" and "Brave Boys" is excellent as well.
But there's no punch, and it's easy to hear why. The first is the missing bagpipes; believe it or not, you can rock out on bagpipes, and that's part of what has made Wolfstone's past sound so effective. The second is the vocals of Stuart Eaglesham, which are as ephemeral as a George W. Bush campaign position compared to past vocalists Struan Eaglesham and Ian Drever. Wolfstone's rock end has suffered, and while as Celtic musicians they're more than competent, so are a hundred other bands. There's nothing to make them stand out any more.
Needless to say, the weaker tracks are vocal; "Crowfeathers,""Wild And The Free" and "Black Dog" (no, this is NOT a Led Zeppelin cover, though that'd be surreal as heck) are all forgettable.
Wolfstone needs direction, and to return to their roots as a band who plays rock and roll with a Scottish soul. What they're doing now isn't particularly special or distinctive, and that's a shame.