October 31, 1999

Wicked Tinkers Entertain, But Too Often Struggle to Find Groove

The Los Angeles, California-based Celtic group Wicked Tinkers comprises Aaron Shaw on Scottish Highland and small pipes, and John MacAdams and Warren Casey playing a variety of drums. Shaw has gained some notoriety as a piper for his work on the soundtracks of Hollywood television and big screen movies, as well as with recording acts like Bonnie Raitt and Forest for the Trees.

The group’s latest effort is “It’s Not About Pretty,” 14 tracks of traditional instruments played without any electronic embellishment, but with plenty of adventurous rhythms and time signatures. The drums are generally traditional rope-tensioned, animal skin head affairs, so, despite the interjection of things like “Cork Hill” in 5/8 time, a bizarre 10/8 tune, and an overly slurred adaptation of Terry Tully’s “Pumpkin’s Fancy,” the whole recording feels more ancient than modern.

The biggest single chunk of music is Wicked Tinkers’ take on the piobaireachd “A Flame of Wrath,” which was done last year by the 78th Fraser Highlanders. Wicked Tinkers’ percussion rhythms are strikingly similar to those of the Frasers. It probably would have been appropriate for Wicked Tinkers to at least acknowledge the other “Flame of Wrath.”

The recording starts to come together towards the end, with the “Roasty Set” of modern hornpipes rolling along well with some really well done percussion settling complementing “Heat from the Furnace” and “Masterblasters” nicely.

The recording is sure to appeal to many Celtic music enthusiasts. Too often, however, the instruments don’t mesh well together, with tempos pushed and pulled between instruments, and sets that end before they really settle in.


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