Neil Anderson,
Dante's Local
(Unreel/BMI, 1999)

Much of the freshness and excitement dominating Neil Anderson's music was lost, I feared, when he parted ways from Seven Nations and struck out on his own. His CD Full Circle seemed to confirm my suspicions. Fortunately, Anderson has proven me wrong with his latest release, Dante's Local.

Although the album begins with a brief snippet of a scratchy, oh-so-traditional reel, it quickly kicks into a rockin', jazzy style of Celtic music in the "1 Cent Magenta" tune set. Led all the way by Anderson's pipes, the sound is indeed fresh and very different from the normal stylings heard on bagpipe and bagpipe rock albums today. Anderson follows that up vocally with Bruce Cockburn's "Don't Feel Your Touch," which gains new life with Anderson's piped harmony lines, then flows into the raucous jig "Thunderhead," which explodes with jazz-heavy energy.

Anderson revisits "The Pound-a-Week Rise," a crowd favorite in his 7N days, but instead of simply remaking the tune with a different band, he and guitarist/producer J'Kael have concocted a new, bluesy arrangement which could win Anderson some new converts. It begins with a mournful pipe solo and drone before breaking into the weighty new rendition, featuring J'Kael's backing vocals for extra wail. Anderson's original song "Dante's Local" is an anthem to end-of-life revelry, and his original "Time in Kind" is a bluesy song with clever lyrics ("I'm just a loser with no alibi / it's really not for me to choose -- / if everything was equal I could send the bill to you / but you know your money here is no damn good") and a cleverer still use of lines from "Wild Rover."

The song "7 Days in Bensonhurst," another Anderson original, takes a ponderous, powerful look at global social issues, and the woeful original "When Is It Gonna Happen" takes us down into a mellow, dark and smoky basement jazz club.

There are more tune sets ("Paddy O'Blivion," "Digeridon't," "Udu Boy") which use the pipes and jazz-club backing band to grand effect. Adding to the overall sound are J'Kael on guitars and mandolin, John Hill on bass guitars, Mark Robohm on drums and Brian Melick on a variety of global percussion.

This is peak material from Anderson, and those (myself included) who feared we'd heard his best work in the past will be gratified by his strong showing here. He blends Celtic tunes and instruments with rock and jazz elements with a great deal more success than was heard on Full Circle, and it reignites my interest in hearing where Anderson takes his music next.

[ by Tom Knapp ]