Battlefield Band, various artists,
A Twenty Five Year Legacy
(Temple, 2003)

Only a Scottish label could give such value on a single release. This double CD offers on the first disc The Best of the Battlefield Band, featuring 19 tracks from 19 albums. Then, on disc 2, you get 25 more tracks from a quarter-century of the label.

I first experienced the Battlefield Band some years ago in a compilation called It Was Nae for the Union, on which they introduced me to "I am the Common Man." (I'm sorry not to see it listed here but then I am happy because I already have that track and now I get these.) The music spans the years of the band from 1977 to 2001. There is a wonderful combination of instrumental and vocal pieces.

The material ranges from the moving "Christ has My Heart Ay," a hymn-type song with multi-voice backing, to "Rantin' Rovin' Robin," an almost medieval sounding offering. "The Yew Tree" is a song by Brian McNeill that brings us through periods of Scottish history. Among the better-known tracks on the album is "The Rovin' Dies Hard."

If one were to pick a single track from the first disc it would be "The River" (not the Springsteen song). This tells of the decline of the ship-building trade. In a simple sad song it brings to mind the cost of industrial decline in a very real and affecting manner. A similar theme is explored in "The Last Trip Home" as the words of Davy Steele recall the days of ploughing with horses. These songs are the essence of folk music -- stories of our very real past. Among the excellent instrumental tracks I would choose "The Concert Reel/The Green Mountain."

Disc 2 opens with Fiddlers Five playing a lovely selection of tunes to lift heart and spirit. The strangely titled "Limbo Ships" from the Jim Hunter CD Fingernail Moon is a revelation. Next, the Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band takes the spotlight for a set of jigs.

"Tell Tae Me" from Heritage is another of the beautiful folk pieces with simple backing and steady voice. Although it has a traditional feel, this is a contemporary composition.

We are so used to hearing the harp compositions of Turlough O'Carolan played on other instruments these days that it sounds particularly fresh when we hear it played well on the harp. "Hawk of Ballyshannon" is such a revelation here from Ann Heymann. The older court music is represented by a crystal voice on "Lyk as the Lark" by the Rowallan Consort.

To show that Scots can take any music to heart, give a listen to "Bayou Pom Pom" by Deaf Heights Cajun Aces. This combination of French music with a pounding beat brings the bayou to bonny Scotland. "Hogmanay" is humorous recollection of that classic Scottish celebration of the New Year.

This CD set, with 44 tracks in all, is a fantastic bargain. Along with great quantity it give exceptional quality. Here is chance to sample some of the best Scottish music of a quarter century and a retrospective on a great band all between one set of CD covers. Snap it up before these canny Scots realise that they are giving away such a bargain.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 26 July 2003

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