Kirk S. McWhorter,
Brambleshire Wood
(McWhorter, 1999)
- first released in 1995 as
Music for a New Renaissance

It's a subtle introduction, a light touch on the whistle and guitar. With crickets. This relaxing, peaceful rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" is an excellent track, but it certainly doesn't prepare you for the rest of Kirk S. McWhorter's Brambleshire Wood.

The pace kicks up for "The Weavers," a homage to the trade. The first hint that this isn't an entirely traditional album comes in at the end, with a lively round-like chorus. Track 3 is a war ballad, "The Village of Brambleshire Wood," which pays honor to the dead and the living veterans from a small village. This song, too, drifts into folk-rock territory as the background explodes into a bedlam of fighting and the brave words that exhorted men into battle.

After a loving take on the romantic Scottish ballad "Annie Laurie," McWhorter sails off into trad-rock with an electric guitar spotlight on "Foxhunters," an instrumental track. After a pleasant enough couple of tracks -- "Wild Mountain Thyme" and the instrumental "Doun in Yon Bank" -- McWhorter launches an incredibly fun version of "Haul Away Joe." This rhythmic sailor's song employs mostly vocals and drums, punctuated by a hammer and anvil, then low-tech industrial sounds give way to hard rock 'n' roll. This is a really good, distinctive track, and I'd love to hear an entire album devoted to this sort of enthusiastic sound.

A rowdy "Wild Rover," full of pub-like revelry and a bit of unexpected harmonica, leads into a sad telling of "The Massacre of Glencoe" -- one of Scotland's darkest hours -- followed by a very touching "Amazing Grace." The famous melody begins faintly, a single Highland pipe nearly lost in the sound of a driving winter wind to commemorate those deaths at Glencoe. The arrangement shifts gears then, handing the tune to a clear, sweet-pitched whistle accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, which then passes it all to an electric guitar with a full backing rock band. And then it's the brash sound of massed bagpipes for an utterly chilling climax that, at the very end, brings the electric and acoustic guitars and whistle back for an encore. Wow.

To avoid a somber ending to the CD, McWhorter added a bonus track -- a collage of studio outtakes. This montage of ... well, stuff, includes rampant battles noises that, without the benefit of music, sound downright silly; bits of various songs that don't necessarily flow into each other very neatly; a diddling reinterpretation of "Wild Rover" that sounds like something from Disney's Robin Hood cartoon -- take that as you will; random horse sounds; another "Wild Rover," this time with -- what is that, a flutaphone? -- well, whatever it is, it's not following along with the voice very well; it a bit of skat on "The Weavers," and a barking dog.

Brambleshire Wood is a very varied album, that much is certain. And McWhorter, who provides vocals as well as soprano recorder, tin whistle, keyboards, bodhran and other percussion, proves himself quite the versatile performer (with a grand array of supporting musicians to boot). It all adds up to a great Celtic package!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 6 March 2004