Pick Of The Litter


Green Linnet Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Do bagpipes frighten you? Well, we here at the Daily Vault in our continued mission to widen your musical horizons want to -help-, really we do. Bagpipes don't have to be scary. Bagpipes can be a heck of a lot of fun, especially when they're used by the Scottish rock band Wolfstone. Wolfstone is neither a rock band tinged with Celtic rhythms or a Celtic new age mishmosh with a slight rock beat; they're a straight-ahead rock band, unabashed, proud, and loud, who just happen to use bagpipes, fiddle, and tin whistle, and they're more fun than a Rangers-Celtic match after four shots of Cardhu. With a remarkably permanent lineup (from 1991 to 1997, they never lost a core member) centered on fiddler Duncan Chisholm and guitarist Stuart Eaglesham, Wolfstone is astonishingly consistent in sound, feel, and quality.


Pick of the Litter is their 1997 greatest hits CD, available from Green Linnet Records. Green Linnet has done a good deal for Celtic music in this country, and should be commended; most of their acts, however, are more traditional than Wolfstone, so when I picked this up, I was surprised that this album does have that much of a kick. From the openings chords of "Battle", a rock instrumental laced with the stinging bite of bagpipes, the sense of power and depth never leaves you. The mating of pipes, fiddle, and electric guitar can occasionally sound forced (say, on the Corrs' Talk On Corners, one of the worst sophomore slumps in music history) but to Wolfstone it comes naturally and easily. A good deal of the reason behind it is the powerful drum lines lacing the recordings, for which both John Henderson and Mop Youngson should get considerable credit. Wolfstone also knows when not to overdo it; the instrumental "The Howl" is only drums and keyboards for a minute and a half of intro, so when Chisholm's nimble fiddle cuts in you notice it.

Wolfstone may, on the whole, be the single best balanced band I've ever heard. Standout tracks include "Tall Ships", the band's tribute to the vanished Glasgow shipbuilding industry; "Heart And Soul"; "Brave Foot Soldiers"; "Sleepy Toon", one of the most demonically catchy melodies I've ever heard; and "Holy Ground", an oddly bitter look at religion in Scotland. "Glenglass" is one of the sweetest instrumental fiddle and guitar duets I've ever heard, and the almost flamenco opening to "The L10 Float" raises that same instrumental combination into the transcendant for a moment or two.

If Wolfstone has a weakness, it's that in some ways they're -too- smooth; I've owned this CD for a year now, and I still had to check the track names. The songs have a tendency to blend together. Adding some punch may be the final ingredient this musical haggis needs for true genius; unfortunately, 1998's "This Strange Place" lacked both punch and fire, and it remains to be seen what the upcoming "Seven" release will be like.

A minor complaint, though. Pick Of The Litter is a fine overview of Wolfstone's sound and career, and worth checking into if the heady blend of rock and Scottish traditional sound appeals to you. Join the fight against wimpy neo-Celtic music, and get yourself the Pick Of The Litter.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Green Linnet Records, and is used for informational purposes only.