Hadrian's Wall,
(self-released, 1997)

The biggest step taken between Hadrian Wall's first and second album is the addition of original material -- representing only three of the album's 11 tracks, it gives a clue of the band's future, and it looks bright indeed.

"The Jolly Piper" is a lively drinkin' song by lead singer/guitarist Neil Emberg which starts the album with high energy. Next up is "Crazy Dog," a song by percussionist Richard Irwin about, well, a crazy dog, and it captures the kind of exasperated affection familiar to every dog owner. Less successful is "The North Sea," another Emberg contribution which is something of a fairy tale ballad ... but, unfortunately, the story doesn't really hold much interest. At least the tune is good.

Hadrian's Wall also continues its tradition of giving new life to traditional Scots-Irish-Canadian tunes, as demonstrated so handily in the band's self-titled debut album.

Old saws like "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye," about a man who comes home from war with fewer limbs than he started with, "Reilly's Daughter," a fast-paced courting song, and "The Bold O'Donahue," which gives the band a chance to swap vocals and insert some energetic set tunes, get excellent treatment. "Glengarry Highland Hip-Hop" is a wonderful "dance mix" version of some bagpipe reels (with piper Bruce Blaney sitting in with the band for this one).

The somber toasting song, "Jock Stewart," is a retread from the band's previous album and, although it's sung quite nicely, I have to wonder why it deserved repeating. "Sam Hall" is a cheery song, ostensibly sung by a chimneysweep condemned to hang for robbing the houses whose chimneys he cleaned. (It's disconcerting, just a bit, that Hall dies mid-song but continues to sing his tale nonetheless!)

The traditional "NFU" is another hoppin' instrumental, this time giving the spotlight to Nelson MacPherson on the button accordion. The album ends with "Loch Lomond," one of the most famous Scottish traditionals. Emberg begins the song with its usual somber tones and does a satisfactory job of singing it as it's always sung -- but then, as one who knows anything about Hadrian's Wall should expect, they give it a kick in the arse for a pumped-up version adding new vigor to the tune.

With two albums under the band's collective belt, it's safe to say that Hadrian's Wall is a name to watch. Pick up their CDs for a fun-filled time at home or try to catch them live -- it's worth the effort.

[ by Tom Knapp ]