Pipe Dreams
(Rhubarb Records, 1994)

Pipe Dreams, by the Australian Scots-rock band Brother, begins as a seemingly straightforward pipe and drum album. Don't get me wrong, they're very good at it -- but you start to wonder what all the fuss is about. You get your first hint in the third track.

After enjoying crisp, if fairly conventional renditions of "An Daorach Bheag" and "Scotland the Brave/Bluebells of Scotland/Black Bear," the album turns to another Scots classic, "Amazing Grace." It seems to be a slow, standard retread of the tune until benefiting from the band's vocal choir, lifting the song over the pipes. Nicely done.

The Brother quartet manage to sound like a full pipe band on "Bide Awa'/Malcolm Ferguson/The Ballahulish Ferry" -- it helps that three of the four members play the pipes. And then things begin to wander a bit outside the realm of traditional piping.

Track five is "My Rhubarb," a brief jingle which defies description. Next up is "The Java Jive," a great song for vocal harmonies but not something I expected from a band of heavy pipers and hard rockers. And the a cappella "The Wiffenpoof Song" is nearly a lullaby in its style and presentation.

But hey, if "Amazing Grace" didn't already convince you, you can be sure by now the band has a great set of vocal pipes, too -- and a quirky sense of humor.

If "Wiffenpoof" has you counting sheep, "Romp and Circumstance" will make sure you're awake with its pipes, keyboards and drum kit, plus a wailing electric guitar. "The Ten Penny Bit" is very nearly a traditional pipe set, punctuated by enthusiastic exclamations and rhythmic clapping as the tempo builds. The aptly named "The Unknown" blends nigh tribal percussion with something approaching a Middle Eastern sound, alternating with a more customary bagpipe performance and, yes, the didgeridoo. Wordless vocals add even more atmosphere to the tune, which fades out and returns with a heavy-footed coda.

"The Rowan Tree" returns to the pipe-and-drum sound which began the album, which ends with "Will You Go," better known to many as the Scots anthem "Wild Mountain Thyme." Brother's barebones choral presentation is a restrained, laidback conclusion to an exciting, widely varied recording.

Great pipers, hard rockers, stunning vocalists -- Brother manages to provide it all. Give 'em a listen and hear what they can do.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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