Tommy Couper,
The Piper's Muse
(Lochshore, 1998)

If you like your Great Highland Bagpipes fast and furious, and you love jigs, this recording is for you. Tommy Couper, an outstanding piper who formerly played with the World Champion pipe band, Shotts and Dykehead, displays his fingers‚ finesse on this CD, and a lightning fast speed. Despite this flash, however, the recording comes up a little hollow, due largely to the tune order and selection.

Couper clearly has an affinity for jigs, which comprise more than half of the recording. This might not be a problem, if it weren't for the fact that the first eight tunes are all jigs, taken at break-neck speed. This is followed by a brief break for a short air, then two more jigs. The jigs are too fast to be danceable (which is typical of pipers, but is hard on the ear when there are too many at once), and the rhythmic pattern tends to almost exclusively stick to the straight six notes, with no holds, pauses, or dotted patterns to keep the ear interested. The result is a spectacularly flashy but unfortunately rather boring opening to the recording.

When the opening jig marathon finally finishes, it is immediately followed by a set of reels, which comes as quite a relief, even if the tempo doesn't let up at all. The most pleasant change of pace comes when Couper plays the title track, the only track on Border Pipes, at a slower and more contemplative pace. The middle section of the recording shows off more variety in tune choice, rhythm, and speed than the rest.

Each track taken individually shows off Couper's high level of skill. Putting those tracks together results in a tedious album. Fewer jigs, and a more even distribution of the jig tracks throughout the CD, would make for a much more interesting album. This CD would work very nicely on random play with other Celtic music of varying tempos.

The arrangements are interesting, and all the musicians do a creditable job. There is a bit more new-age keyboard accompaniment to the pipes than I would prefer, but it does succeed in incorporating pipes into a different style of music than they are normally found. The use of guitar, flute, piano, and percussion add tremendously to the depth of the recording. It would be nice to hear more pipers do this sort of thing.

Couper's bagpipe is well-tuned and has a very nice tone. His skill and talent are not to be questioned. Each tune selection, whether original, modern, or traditional, stands well on its own. It is the lack of overall variety that makes this recording suffer.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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