Review Summary: Celtic Folk Rock at its absolute finest.
In 1994, Seven Nations had made a standing in the Celtic Folk movement with their debut Rain and Thunder
. Although the album was not a perfect one, their popularity boosted and the band continued their full-time touring schedule, all the while working on what would become their next and best effort. Although several instrumentals and covers of Celtic Folk songs, the band took time to include original songs on their new record, although they still used the same crappy microphones as the last time. However, you’ll have forgotten that the recording quality was ever bad by the time the last track ends. Their 1995 follow-up project, Old Ground
, instead of being a sophomore slump, included some of the best music that 7N has ever recorded, or anyone in folk rock for that matter. While Rain And Thunder
is sort of in black-and-white, Old Ground
is in full Technicolor, captivating from beginning to end. Moreover, this is the first album featuring piper Neil Anderson as a vocalist, his baritone complimenting Kirk McLeod’s tenor excellently. All in all, Seven Nations’ Old Ground
is simply one of the best undiscovered folk rock albums ever made.
Seven Nations (at the time):
Kirk McLeod (Vocals, keyboard, guitars, Great Highland Bagpipes)
Neil Anderson (Vocals, highland and Uilleann Bagpipes, Scottish smallpipes, tin whistles, mandolin)
Jim Struble (Backing vocals, acoustic and bass guitars)
Nick Watson (Backing vocals, drums, percussion)
1.Colonel Fraser/The Big Parcel/Elziks Farewell
A really great album opener. This collection of traditional instrumental tunes opens up with an extended bagpipe solo, masterfully performed, which never seems to get boring or annoying. Just when you think it might last the whole song, guitar explodes onto the track, and it accompanies the pipes for the rest of the song. The pipes (I believe) are played by Neil Anderson. I’m no bagpiping critic, but even an amateur can tell that Anderson is a superior musician in his field. Before you know it, the song is over, echoing off into the distance. Old Ground
An original song, not a cover or a traditional tune, and one of 7N’s better originals at that. Although there really isn’t anything extremely stellar about this track, it is excellently performed. The lyrics really aren’t anything new or groundbreaking, but listening to the song does give the listener a warm, comfortable feeling as they listen to McLeod’s soaring voice over familiar guitar chords. Really, there isn’t much else to say about this one.
3.The Pound A Week Rise
The first of the folk song covers on Old Ground
. This one follows that ever-familiar structure of a folk song: there are about a dozen verses that are rather lengthy compared to a brief chorus. And, of course, the last verse is always some kind of moral. Neil Anderson sings this one, and does a fantastic job describing hellish working conditions in coal mines. He’s accompanied by a pipe and some scratchy guitar playing. The combination of the instrumentation and vocal style in this song perfectly sets the mood for this song, and it’s one of the best on the album.
Another Seven Nations original. This was one of their more popular tracks as it has been re-recorded for 7N’s self-titled album, the older version is superior in nearly every way. The minute details in the (insanely catchy) pipe riff, the drumming rhythm, and length of the song trump the tamer sounding newer version. Moreover, this song marks a transition in 7N’s music. It is one of the first of their songs to feature an electric guitar, completely abandoning their Iron & Wine-type style from Rain and Thunder
. Although it’s not 7N’s most ambitious or creative work, it’s a very good listen.
5.Trumpan/Clare Jig/The Gaitha Fiddlehead
This is one of Seven Nation’s best songs ever recorded. Well, really it’s a collection of songs, but it’s still some of the best. This instrumental begins with Trumpan, a soulful piano solo, which is engrossing as it is well-performed. Its solemn yet powerful composition strikes chords in our hearts. It truly is a fantastic piece. Before you even have time to think about it, a comely sounding guitar jumps in with the beginning of Clare Jig. The guitar is soon joined a solid base and tin whistle. It is a beautiful piece of music. Clare Jig soon seamlessly blends into the Gaitha Fiddlehead. It’s calming and yet somehow exciting at the same time. Undoubted some of the best music 7N has put out. Ever.
This track is one of 7N’s first to feature prominent electric guitar. This track is solemn, but intense, and is another one of 7N’s more popular tracks. So much so that it has been re-recorded twice: one time acoustically for the bands self-titled album, and a more hard rock version for 2002’s And Now It’s Come To This
(renamed “Up To Me” for that album). As before with “Scream,” neither of the two newer versions can compete with the classic 1995 recording. Its cryptic lyrics and pounding guitar make it a definite highlight of the record.
Another folk song cover, written in relatively the same style as “The Pound A Week Rise,” with lots of long verses and a short chorus. This seven-minute epic is sung nearly entirely by Neil Anderson, with McLeod occasionally providing background vocals. The song is sung at a slow tempo, with a calm acoustic guitar part that remains constant throughout the entire song. This song has been covered also by Nic Jones, Bob Dyland, and The White Stripes, but none of those come close to this one. Throughout its length, it never seems to get old or boring, and there is a fantastic whistle solo in an interlude section. Really well done song.
8.Campbell’s Farewell To Redcastle/ Christo Wraps the Reichstag/ The Kilt Is My Delight/ Maggie’s
Wow! That’s a whole lot of tunes. There must be, like twelve! Wow! Well, believe it or not, they blend together seamlessly. Despite the number of songs in the medley, the track is only about five minutes long. This instrumental track begins with a short pipe intro before it is joined by the guitar in a melodic, fun tune. Before you know it, the mood has changed, and we’re onto another tune! During the second section, percussion joins the mix, echoing out in the background. Suddenly the pace picks up. The guitar and pipe go together perfectly, and they never miss a beat. Suddenly the tension builds up, reaches a climax, and lets loose some fast and furious piping in a popular traditional tune. As far as 7N instrumentals go, this one is a great one.
This is a decent song. It’s not 7N’s most daring. It’s not really their most ambitious. But it definitely is by Seven Nations. Especially in an album in which a band reaches out, builds on their sound, and takes big leaps, a song in which they simply sound like themselves is very comforting to hear. It doesn’t exactly stand out from any of the rest of the tracks, but still definitely a fun song. Not much else to say about this one.
10. Ye Jacobites By Name/The Rights of Man
Another folk song sung by Neil Anderson. This track starts out with a fantastic choir acapella, with Anderson leading the way. The simple power of this song strikes with a force which forces listeners to “lend an ear.” The energetic guitar and whistle in the song are top-notch as always, of course. This song has been covered by a ton
of people, but only Seven Nations would stick an fantastic extended whistle solo on the end. Definitely a standout track on the album.
11. Men of Argyll/Old Ground
The final track of Old Ground
begins with a traditional bagpipe number, complete with Scottish snare drums. It takes me right back to the Celtic Festival up in the mountains… But the time for reminiscing is over as soon as the first guitar chord plays. Similar to Track 5, “Old Ground” has a curious feature of being calming but intense at the same time. While the acoustic guitar is serene and peaceful, the electric guitar and drums give it an energetic drive. With McLeod’s somber singing about sacrifice on top of it all, you’ve got yourself a superb song, which feels almost progressive at some parts. This will most likely be a precursor to their highly ambitious effort The Factory
which showed a lot of progressive rock influence. But this is Old Ground
, a fantastic record, possibly the best of its genre.