March 31, 2004

Packed house arrest

Western Australia Police Pipe Band
Produced by the band. WAPOL4CD03

Reviewer's rating: 4 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Rob Crabtree

The Western Australia Police Pipe Band’s Web site ( touts Live@MPAC (the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre) as the band’s third album and its first recorded live. The original show took place in November 2003, so these folks know how to get rolling on a project.

The foundations of the band are solid. WAPOL is a Grade 1 outfit that competes at the World’s. Quality tone and playing are obvious on the CD. Most tracks feature a healthy dose of non-traditional accompaniment, including acoustic, electric and bass guitar, kit drums, synthesizer, Deger pipes, club-style dance beats, and even didgeridoo.

The album is a great listen and full of interesting, creative ideas. I’ll skip the track-by-track analysis (see band Web site) and instead give overall comments. About the track order, although it may be faithful to the concert line-up, I would change it. At a point early on, my interest was flagging, whereas the last six tracks are back-to-back sizzlers. Unfortunately, with insufficient contrast between them, their impact is lessened. Reordering would balance the energy of the CD and flatter its best tracks.

The accompaniment draws on the pop idiom, but has a bit too much variety to create a unified, central sound. Art should exhibit inspired consistency. This is a real challenge for pipe bands trying to develop new music. It’s not enough, in the long run, to use some guitar, bass and drums here, a synthesizer patch there and house rhythms elsewhere. This may get the message out that pipes and drums sound good with other instruments, but gives albums the feel of a sampler.

My only other comment concerns the album art. The cover image is okay, but the text layout is hard to follow, images in the insert are of so-so quality and the colour palette is uninspired. The tray insert and disk introduce a nightmarish band logo not used anywhere else. Overall, too much is going on to get a clear message across, which is regrettable. Better communication of the content might attract more buyers.

This album is worth getting. Live@MPAC is full of energy and ideas and more than a few moments that gave me goose bumps—the acid test of any recorded music. Two of my comments have easy fixes, and the other is a challenge we all face in evolving our music. The band should be proud. Several tracks on Live@MPAC are pointing the way.

Rob Crabtree is one of Canada’s most accomplished pipers, with many competitive awards and several recordings to his name. His CD, The Piper’s Legacy, was nominated for a Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys. He has played with several Grade 1 bands, including the 78th Fraser Highlanders and the Toronto Police. He lives in Toronto.


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