The Battlefield Band,
Time & Tide
(Temple, 2002)

The makeup of the classic and long-lived Scottish folk group, the Battlefield Band, seems to change with time and tide, so the title of this CD is singularly appropriate. Since last year's Happy Daze, the band has lost long-time fiddler John McCusker and replaced him with Alasdair White, and guitarist Karine Polwart has been replaced with the returning Pat Kilbride. Keyboard and accordion player Alan Reid and piper Mike Katz remain. Now that that's clear, on to the music.

The Battlefield Band has always been one of the finest aggregations of Scottish musicians no matter who was in the band, and this CD proves the current gathering to be no exception. In fact, it's the best grouping I've heard in some time, with a very full sound both instrumentally and vocally. Things get off to a grand start with a fine tune set, and when those pipes come skirling in, the hair stands up on the back of your neck. The band's tune sets are wonders when you look at how smoothly one tune leads into another. There's a real art to putting these sets together, and the Battlefield Band is second to no one, with some energetic original tunes from both White and Katz. Along with the great sets are a pair of other instrumentals, G.S. MacLennan's deeply beautiful "Sunset" and fiddler White's evocative and lovely "Time & Tide."

The songs are equally fine. The old classic "Calton Weaver" gets a mellow, low-key variant in "Nancy's Whisky," and Kilbride's "Camden Town" is one of those new songs that should rapidly become an old standard. Clyde paddle steamers are given musical immortality in Reid's "The Bonny Jeannie Deans," and "Rothesay Bay" blends traditional lyrics with a new Reid melody. The closing song is appropriately enough a whiskey song, "Whiskey From the Field."

If I had my druthers, I'd like to see a few more Pat Kilbride songs in the mix. There's only one here, and Kilbride is too good a songwriter and singer to shortchange in this way. But wherever time and tide may take the Battlefield Band, following them as they constantly change and evolve is always well worth the trip.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 7 December 2002

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