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WOLFSTONE "Year of the Dog" Green Linnet CT 06810

Two bars in and adolescent memories of headbanging to "Black Sabbath", "ACDC" and the rest of those magnificent men in their flying V's, come flooding back. Ah, it must be the new Wolfstone CD. Sure enough Ivan Drever's honest northern tones bring me back to the nineties as he sings of the "Holy Ground". Wolfstone's new recording "Year of the Dog" is announcing its arrival with a vengeance.

Guitar riffs, heavy bass lines, and thundering percussion compete with driving fiddle and blistering piping to create the unique Wolfstone sound. With everyone playing flat out the effect is as invigorating as a walk buck naked through a thunderstorm (I imagine!!). The individual components each fighting to win supremacy but keeping fiercely tight. This is their fifth album and the rough edges have been sanded smooth as marble. Duncan Chisholm's "skeletal" fiddle dances around the "heavy section", Stuart Eaglesham's guitar, Wayne MacKenzie's bass and Mop Youngson's drums, providing the epoxy to keep the lot together. When the fiddle is moved from centre spot its place is taken by the pipes played by Gordon Duncan, you can't get fairer than that. The ubiquitous Phil Cunningham even joins in for the "Double Rise" set where a couple of Phil's tunes get the Wolfstone treatment, for once it is Phil who is keeping up! Phil's influence pervades the CD as he produced it, and most of the sets feature his tunes.

While the sets with the fiddle or pipes are definitely a fusion of the folk tradition with rock there are a number of songs which are solid rock. The opening track "Holy Ground", "The Seaking" and "White Gown" (all Drever compositions the first and last with Chisholm) would all sit quite happily on recordings being produced across the Atlantic. Runrig move over, Wolfstone are aiming for the stadiums! "Holy Ground" in particular, with its very topical Irish theme, seems set to be a crowd pleaser.

Ivan Drever compositions feature heavily on this album for all the songs have his hand in them as do a couple of the tunes. This includes the improbably named "crossing the mince" (no relation to Donald MacLeod's fine Hornpipe "Crossing the Minch"). The songs range in topic from the troubles in Ireland through mystical sea kings, the Klu Klux Klan to the pain of forced emigration. The latter "The Braes of Sutherland" is the most traditional sounding song on the CD and deals with being forced to leave Sutherland. They all show that Ivan is maturing as a songwriter.

Wolfstone are upping the ante with this recording. The move is definitely towards a beefier rock sound which should broaden their appeal. Fortunately there is still plenty of the frantic and exhilarating folk/rock, that we know and love, to keep us happy. This recording will win many new fans and please most of the already converted.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 7 of The Living Tradition magazine.