This Way Up
Driving through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport a couple of weeks ago, This Way Up was in the car CD player and "The Unknown (Granny MacLeod & Rory MacLeod)" had just come on at about the same time I pulled into the tollbooth. I play this song extremely loud, because it feels so good, so I didn't actually turn it all the way down as I rolled down my window. I passed my ticket to the attendant, a Middle Eastern man, maybe mid-40s. As I was waiting for him to tell me the toll, I noticed him start tapping his fingers. His head began to bob up and down, first only slightly, then with a more definite motion. By the time he handed me my change, he was all but dancing and had a beautiful smile plastered all over his face. "I like your music!" says he.
"Thanks." I replied. "They're from Australia." And then I had to pull away to let the next car in.
I pushed the button to start the song again, turned the volume up, and drove on with the memory of his look of wonderment in my mind. He probably hears all sorts of music, sitting as he does in his booth taking tickets and change. I wondered if he'd heard anything like this band before. And considered it fortunate that he should hear them at all.
In June 1999, I heard Brother for the first time at a local Scottish festival. Four guys, two in kilts, took the stage and immediately I knew this was going to be something new. By the time their set was finished, I was almost as mesmerized as the poor little old lady sitting in the row across from me, but for much different reasons. I was in awe of "that aboriginal horn thingy" (the didgeridoo) that Hamish Richardson had played so masterfully, and the harmonies of voice and bagpipe that could only come from a pair of siblings. She was in awe of the bare behinds she'd seen at the end of their signature tune "Rhubarb" which ends with their backs to the crowd and their kilts tossed high!! I didn't buy a CD that day -- I kept thinking I'd go back and get one. I never did.
About two weeks later we heard the grim news that the band had been in an accident and three members, brothers Hamish and Angus Richardson and guitarist Steve Luxemberg, had been hospitalized along with their road manager, Fedj.
Fast forward to August 2000. Brother is on the road again, healthy and ready to rock. They managed to book two dates in Dallas and one night in Houston. I went to all three. This time I did buy a CD and This Way Up was well worth the long wait. While there are repeat songs from earlier albums -- "Thetimeisnow," "Blackest of Blue," "The Crow," to name a few -- the title, artwork and even the playlist are all symbolic of the sheer struggle the band endured coming back. Recorded at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in April 2000, and featuring new drummer, Roel Kuiper (his mother, according to Angus, named him Roel because he does!), it's packed with energy. Hamish still does that didge thing so well. The harmonies are still intact, and stronger, if that's possible. Steve cuts loose and rocks the house, much to the delight of the live audience. This CD is a party of its very own.
Since this is a live CD, and I've seen them a few times now, it's easier to "see" them as the songs play. And it's easier to know who's singing -- their voices are so closely matched! "Thetimeisnow," probably the perfect demo song, displays Steve's (or Lux, as the fans call him) hot licks. I can visualize those "guitarman" faces he makes, see him up on his tiptoes. And, I realized finally, in this song I can hear the rhythm of the didge -- all that blowing in and out Hamish does really makes music! Add Angus on pipes and Roel's drums -- you've got a perfect mix.
"Rainmaker" is probably the best description of Outback life: "Four bare walls, tin roofed hut, looking out on an empty sky. Wind blows hot, door won't shut, dust in the riverbed, watertank dry..." -- it's easy to imagine the heat, the dust, the cost. The slow and soothing "Flyaway" highlights their beautiful harmonies, and makes me wish they'd do an accoustic CD next.
Just before the drums begin their call to your feet, moving you to tap or maybe even dance to "The Unknown (Granny MacLeod and Rory MacLeod)," Hamish makes the only reference to their accident, explaining his reaction to finding himself upside down in the van as the dust settles, then the song starts -- drums, then didge, then pipes -- in the most tribal of all the tunes on the CD. Somehow the volume just has to come up! The CD is dedicated to "All who helped us 'back on our feet'!" Behind the music, the sounds of a very appreciative audience tells you the band is not alone in its celebration.
Call it native. Call it tribal. Call it wild. No matter what label you may want to put on it, the sound is unlike any other.
[ by Sheree Morrow ]