Full Circle (Neil Anderson & Friends),
Full Circle
(unReel Music, 1999)

Like the death of Samuel Clemens, rumors of Neil "Antipypr" Anderson's departure from music have been greatly exaggerated. Within a few heartbeats of announcing his resignation from the popular bagpipe rock band Seven Nations for reasons of health and family, Anderson released a new album and began touring with a new lineup of musicians. Since Anderson has already appeared in the same concert lineup as his former bandmates, one can only guess that their parting was without bitterness even if the reasons given for the split no longer ring true.

(For the record, his reasons for leaving Seven Nations have been retroactively altered on Anderson's new web page, which tells us he left "in order to concentrate on his solo projects.")

Not that I'm complaining. Anderson's quirky vocal style and his adept handling of the Highland pipes would make his retirement from Celtic rock a disappointing loss.

At the same time, however, I can't say Anderson made a good trade. While he has gained the main spotlight from Seven Nations frontman Kirk McLeod, he has lost the tight musicianship and overall sense of fun that made Seven Nations so spectacular.

Full Circle isn't a bad album by any stretch, and Anderson's piping remains among the industry's best. But none of the album's nine tracks jump up and grab me the way Seven Nations did at every turn. The instrumentation at times has a harsher edge than I'm used to from Anderson, his pipes don't rock with quite the same passion they shared with McLeod's guitar, and his vocals -- once raucous and wild and fun -- are disappointingly bland.

The jazz-heavy "Fletcher Mountain Blues/Fletcher Mountain Hornpipe" shows a new direction which could help set Anderson's new work apart from his old, but surrounded as it is by his typical "heavy bagpiping," the track seems out of place. Jazz influences also show up on tracks including "Secret Chinese Army" and "Bourree," but not enough to make me sit up and shout, "Hey, he's gone jazz!"

Celtic-flavored jazz has been done before -- and done better, in my opinion -- by bands like Scotland's Shooglenifty. Still, this first effort by Anderson's new band is enough to make me curiously eager to see where he goes next.

Full Circle consists of Anderson on pipes, whistles and vocals, Eric Garland on upright bass and bass guitars, and Sam Hooker on drums and percussion. The album also includes performances by eight guest musicians, including Seven Nations' vocalist McLeod on keyboards. Guest musician J'Kael, according to Anderson's website, has since been added to the band's permanent roster for guitars, keyboards and vocals.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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