The Battlefield Band
in membership since its founding in the late 1960s, can live up to either reading. For crack traditional playing in not only reels but laments, where unison tones rise and fall with their own tension, the band is tough to beat; they've been called top dog in a genre with a thousand pups. But the Battlefield Band is best known for original songs that treat traditional materials in whole new ways.
Two settings of poems on their latest release, Room Enough for All, are unlike anything else I've ever heard. Neither is Scottish. Louis MacNeice's "Bagpipe Music" mimics nonsense verse as it ruminates on the decline of village cultures. It evokes Celtic rhythms: "It's no go the merry-go-round, / it's no go the rickshaw, / All we want is a limousine / and a ticket for the peepshow."
The poem is only strengthened by the addition of actual bagpipes, which give traditional culture the chance to make a sharp rejoinder of its own. The other poem set is American: Aaron Kramer's "In Contempt" is a largely forgotten 1950s attack on the prison-industrial complex. In the Battlefield Band's version, the perspective provided by the Scots instruments is quite complex, including elements of reproach, lament, and idealistic hope.