Published: October 31, 1999

The Rogues Create a Celtic Joyride

Only a decade ago, most North American Celtic groups were just loose imitations of bands like Battlefield, Tannahill Weavers, and Osian. Today, the United States, in particular, appears to be not just riding the wave of interest in Celtic music, but creating its own tidal force.

The Rogues – the Houston, Texas, quartet of two pipers and two percussionists – have just released “Off Kilter,” their fourth recording, which presents a quite unique and distinctly modern take on the Celtic idiom.

It would be a mistake for competing pipers and drummers to take one look at the group and dismiss them as a bunch of Rob Roy revivalists, like those seen around many North American Highland games. The Rogues’ puffy shirted look is part of the overall spectacle.

“Off Kilter” is a distinctly modern approach to piping and drumming. But, unlike many of today’s Celtic music groups, The Rogues don’t seem to have much time for synthesizers or anything electronic, for that matter. With only one exception, their stuff is done using traditional instruments.

Their music, though, is anything but traditional. “Off Kilter” is a ceilidh of musical surprises, the most intriguing of which seem to be from piper Lars Sloan. Three tracks in particular – “Miss. P.,” “’Scuse Me?” and “Guinness Dog” – are wonderfully creative. From the dog barking samples in “Guinness Dog” to the bizarre vocal interjections in “’Scuse Me?,” Sloan’s compositions put an accent on fun, and usually come up with a percussion groove that makes the pipe music surge.

And it is the percussion that is perhaps the best overall part of “Off Kilter.” Bodhran, congas, bongos, claves, and God knows what else drive the whole thing along at a crazy pace. The only parts of the recording that get a bit ponderous are the points where the groups goes only with Highland pipes and pipe band snare, as in the start of the last track of hornpipes and reels. It’s relatively unexciting, but then the group gets grooving again with drum set and a more driving tempo.

“Off Kilter” is a difficult thing to summarize musically. The piping is very good, the instruments are well tuned, and the spirit is intensely positive. One thing’s for sure: the piping puritans will hate it.

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