Celtic rock: from the extraordinary to the pedestrian

Issue 

Bothy Culture
Martyn Bennett
Rykodisc through Festival
This Strange Place
Wolfstone
Green Linnett Records through Festival

Reviews by Barry Healy

From Bob Dylan's amphetaminecharged '60s ballads and the Beatles' and Jimi Hendrix's LSD-drenched anthems, drugs have played a big role in the development of modern popular music.

Unfortunately for those of us with no taste for boring repetition, ecstasy is the '90s choice of drug, and dance/rave/techno/trip/doof music is its accompaniment.

Given all that, Brothy Culture raises the question: what on earth are people getting up to in Scotland these days?

Martyn Bennett is a classically trained musician, an expert in Scottish folk music and, based on this CD, well versed in styles from the Punjab, China, dance clubs and maybe even the other side of the moon.

When he gets cooking with these ingredients, he doesn't make stew, he serves up something that sounds like a whole new creation made from shards of old traditions.

He is certainly bold in his fusing of genres, and his virtuosity is extraordinary. However, there is more than a show-off at work here; there is also sensitivity and lyricism — in his treatment of Sorley McLean's poem Hallaig, for example. He evokes drama and emotion through simple changes in the background timing and variations in emphasis.

Bennett doesn't sample snatches from exotic records, as is so common. He is a master musician, genuinely enjoying himself. Altogether, Bothy Culture indicates that maybe some unexpected advances may yet come from '90s music.

Not so Wolfstone's effort, This Strange Place. Where Martyn Bennett is radical, Wolfstone is safe and conventional. This is strange, because Bennett has toured with Wolfstone, playing bagpipes.

Wolfstone can be filed under Celtic rock, subsection pedestrian. Wolfstone clearly aspires to more; the tracks have other-worldly titles like "The Arab Set" and "Kazakhstan". However, no song here affects the emotions and no folk-rock work-out raises the temperature higher than tepid.

What a pity. Decades ago, the Irish group Moving Hearts showed what was possible from the meeting of the Gaels and rock music. Those interested should seek out their records in second-hand bins. Then check out Martyn Bennett, who is their true heir in the highlands of experimentation.