Ceolbeg,
Seeds to the Wind
(Greentrax, 1991)

Anyone who likes the most recent incarnation of the Battlefield Band will find something to like about older recordings by Ceolbeg. Davy Steele, present frontman for the Battlefield Band, sang lead for Ceolbeg until 1995, and his warm vocal style and sometimes politically motivated lyrics left their mark.

Seeds to the Wind, Ceolbeg's 1991 release, is a good way to meet the band. Like Battlefield Band, Ceolbeg uses the Great Highland war pipe as a lead instrument. But Ceolbeg creates an unusual counterpoint by featuring also the clarsach, or Irish harp, and the result is an unquestionable success.

The centerpiece of the album is the Jacobite anthem "Johnnie Cope," which celebrates one of the Highland army's great victories during Bonnie Prince Charlie's ill-fated attempt to retake the Scottish and English thrones. Steele maintains a lighthearted, almost mocking tone throughout, no doubt capturing the mood of the elated Highlanders before the turning tide sent them fleeing to the utter rout and slaughter at Culloden.

Wendy Stewart has a light touch on the harp to accompany Steele's vocals, and the song is punctuated by pipe and drum interludes to marshal the Highland fighters.

Another excellent track begins with the mournful pipe solo "Senorita Ana Rocio," written and played by piper Gary West, then leads into a somber song co-written by Steele and keyboardist Colin Matheson about a Skye family were forced to leave their homeland by a militia directed by clan chief -- get this! -- Ronald MacDonald.

Steele's voice soars on the Robert Burns song "A' the Airts." For something different, grab an earful of "Here's a Health tae the Sauters," another Steele original sung in a heavy Scottish dialect about saltwater gathering in the Firth of Forth. The song is coupled with the traditional, but hardly Scottish, "Cajun Two-Step" with delightful results.

The album includes 10 tracks, half of which are instrumental sets. "The Coupit Yowe Set" is an excellent example of how the harp and bagpipes can be played together effectively.

Although Peter Boond, on flute, cittern and whistles, is the only band member not credited for writing or arranging some of the tunes, his playing is evident throughout and adds a needed layer to the overall sound. Still, it is without a doubt that Steele's singing, Stewart's harp and West's pipes make Seeds to the Wind an enjoyable listening experience.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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