Published: June 30, 2001

Checked Out

Scantily Plaid just checking in . . . Independently produced Information available from www.ScantilyPlaid.com

Scantily Plaid is a recently-formed trio of Celtic musicians from the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, area comprising Doug Feaver on various percussion instruments, guitars, and harmonica; Ruth Sutherland on vocals and harp; and Bob Worrall on bagpipes and whistles. The group’s first CD, just checking in . . ., is an independently-produced effort with some 15 tracks and a total of 66 minutes playing time. Despite the independent nature of the recording, the CD is extremely well recorded and mixed, and every bit as good as something one would hear from a “big” Celtic label. On the instrumental tracks, Bob Worrall’s piping — either on Highland pipes, Scottish reel pipes, or Scottish small pipes — is central. Most of the instrumental work is clever and creative, and very well played. Worrall’s natural rhythmic ability comes through nicely throughout, but on the fourth cut featuring a Breton march, a few strathspeys, and two reels, it’s particularly good. Despite being retired from competitive piping for over 20 years, Worrall never shies away from technical challenges. The group chooses both traditional and contemporary content, and Worrall’s strong fingerwork could stand up against just about anything going today. Tackling recent, complicated stuff from Gordon Duncan (“Upside Down at Eden Court”) or R.S. MacDonald (“Good Drying”) is no problem. The group takes its cue in several spots from several influences, particularly Anna Murray’s Out of the Blue recording and her famous rendition of “Brenda Stubbert’s Reel. The close emulation of the track is technically excellent, but a little more variation from the original might have sparked more interest. The band’s inclusion of the 1970s “concept rock” group Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man” is interesting too, and the track sticks out from the rest. It’s difficult to make better, or, for that matter, make worse, this maudlin rock cliché, but Worrall’s clever replacement of Keith Emerson’s keyboards with Scottish small pipes is a true stroke of brilliance and even comic relief. Doug Feaver’s lead vocals are every bit as good as Greg Lake. It’s the original stuff that’s the best work on the CD. Ruth Sutherland has a wonderful voice that commands attention and evokes emotion, as in the opening reprise of “MacCrimmon’s Lament” from an old Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band LP and “Piping Jamie,” a very nice new song with a traditional feel from her own pen. Worrall’s inclusion of R.S. MacDonald’s “Margaret’s Waltz” embellishes the track very well. For a first effort, just checking in . . . is an impressive start from Scantily Plaid. Once this band compiles more original material, it will be even more enjoyable. Outside of Skyedance, you’re unlikely to find a better assembly of Celtic musicians in North America.

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