Wolf Loescher,
Holy Grail
(self-produced, 1999)

When the pipes start skirling through "Amazing Grace," you might think you've heard it all before. But Wolf Loescher, a Texan who co-founded Celtic folk-rockers SixMileBridge (using the name M. Wolfgang Loescher), has some surprises on his debut solo effort, Holy Grail.

Besides his vocals on each of eight tracks, Loescher plays guitar, bouzouki, bodhran and the Highland pipes. Although he uses a few guest musicians here and there, there's no question this is his project.

The first track, "Amazing Grace (Again)," is an original piece co-written by Loescher and his brother, Michael, who also provides backing vocals. It's a fine song about his days on the circuit as a nontraditional piper among traditional peers, and he has cleverly woven snippets of the well-known "Amazing Grace" melody and lyrics into his fresh approach, touching on his own growing disillusionment -- "I started real young, I practiced real hard to try and make the grade / but now I'm older and all I'm thinking about is getting through this damn parade" -- and bobbing a nod to the inevitable reaction of some to the distinctive Scottish sound: "A dog starts howling somewhere down the street / As the pipes begin to play 'Amazing Grace' again."

"The Shepherd's Wife" is an amusing Robert Burns tune about marital negotiations. Loescher wields a Scots dialect for this one, accompanying himself just with a brushed and beaten bodhran. "Lies" is a thoughtful Stan Rogers song well-served by Loescher's arrangement with guitar and bouzouki.

He puts his own spin on a few genre favorites. "Loch Tay Boat Song" is given a sparse treatment with just vocals and guitar -- but the lyrics clash with his American folkish approach. (The best version, in my opinion, is still Silly Wizard's.) The same can be said for his rendition of "The Errant Apprentice," best covered by Andy M. Stewart on Man on the Moon. What sells this one, however, is the wonderfully lyrical accompaniment of fiddler Amy Price.

Price also provides great fiddle harmonies on Spencer Franklin's "Under Fiery Skies." She only appears on two tracks, but Loescher would do well to recruit her as a permanent bandmate -- her fiddle adds a lot to the overall sound. Loescher also adds layers of vocal harmony to his own lead, and the combination works. The a capella "Diesel & Shale" combines his lead and harmony vocals with additional backing vocals by Bill Galbraith, and the combination works beautifully.

The too-short album ends with another Loescher original, "Holy Grail." Inspired by M. Scott Peck's book The Road Less Traveled, it's a good folk song, but seems out of place on such a Celtic-inspired album.

There are a few rough patches on Holy Grail, but it's a good beginning for someone who traded his drums and pipes in a growing ensemble for the chance to front his own project. His vocals sometimes lack polish, but they're strong and earnest and show a lot of potential for future releases. Likewise, his instrumental work is good and his arrangements are excellent, if at times a bit sparse. If he chooses a solid direction and picks his musical partners as well as he did for this recording, he should do well indeed.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Visit Wolf Loescher's Web site