Reivers of the Heart CD, Reviews

Borders are strange things, really. It's the easiest job in the world simply to draw a line on a map and declare it a border, but how many problems can be caused by that seemingly straightforward task? Historically, the reivers of the Scottish / English borderland had a great way of coping with this by just forgetting that there was such a line on a map, and carrying on doing their own thing regardless. It's a bit like that with music from the area, in that it can draw draw freely on sounds which are essentially Scottish or English in themselves, and fuse them into something which is much greater than the sum of its parts, yet is quintessentially of its area. Add to that the relative isolation of the Borders, and it just seems natural that traditions are long-kept by locals.
This doesn't mean that new ideas are not welcome, as this release clearly shows. By combining the eponymous Matt Seattle, Border pipes and mandolin; Donald Knox, guitar and mandolin; Lewis Powell-Reid, accordion, mandolin and bouzouki; with Frazer Watson's percussion on darabuka, frame drums and tapan, this group produces an overall effect which is earthy, vibrant and original, yet still subtle, complex and hugely respectful of the traditions from which it draws. Often, when a musical fusion is attempted, the results can be a bit unsatisfying, as the ingredients don't actually sit that well together, but here that balancing of ideas (and instruments) is wonderful. The tonality is complex at times, and always interesting, engaging and exciting, with each new hearing bringing out new subtleties. Highly recommended.
Gordon Potter, The Living Tradition
Border piper Matt Seattle, probably best known for 1999's Out Of The Flames album of tunes from the William Dixon pipe repertoire, is in rather different territory here, fronting a four-piece band which, aside from the expected accordion, guitar and mandolins, also features an array of Middle Eastern percussion. While this suggests a spicy edge to the outfit, for the most part the crossover is rather understated, particularly on the traditional tunes.
That's not to say that they aren't enjoyable - check out Watson's dynamic accompaniment on 'Cut And Dry Dolly' - it's just that there is a sense that the possibilities are not being fully explored. Where things do become exciting, however, is on the disc's twelve-minute centrepiece, Seattle's 'Thomas The Rhymer Suite'. An instrumental re-telling of the mediaeval otherworld narrative, Seattle coaxes an astounding array of voices from his pipe that reach towards the Eastern influences and meet them halfway, rather than just incorporating them into Border forms. The results are as expressive as any storyteller. Closing track 'Damascus Drum', too, demonstrates the potential of a true fusion of styles, making me wish there had been rather more of this thrilling risk-taking.
Oz Hardwick, R2/Rock'n'Reel
Back in 1999 (was it really that long since?), Matt, a thoughtful and dedicated exponent of the Border pipes, gave us a whole album of tunes from the historic William Dixon repertoire, since which time I've fallen out of touch with his output and not been sent any subsequent releases for review. Reivers Of The Heart would appear to be Matt's latest offering, then; it presents a dynamic mixture of pieces either traditional and arranged by Matt or newly composed by him in the tradition but with vital new twists.
Matt's mission would appear to be to generate in and through his playing the unique, special brand of energy that's implanted in Border music by the friction between Scotland and England; and there's certainly an abundantly fiery quality to his music-making. Here on this new disc, the piercing sound of Matt's Border pipes is heard in agreeable consort with a band originally convened for a cameo appearance at Denholm Folk Festival in 2008 but since retained for further gigs and the making of this CD. The lineup comprises Donald Knox (guitar, mandolin), Lewis Powell-Reid (accordion, bouzouki, mandolin) and Frazer Watson (playing an array of Middle Eastern percussion instruments - darabuka, frame drum and tapan), and together they make an appetising and invigorating noise, providing a take on Border traditional music that, as you might guess from that instrumental complement, is at times slightly exotic.
Sometimes this blend feels a mite underdeveloped, even bordering on formulaic in its internal arrangement, but there are plenty of other moments when the mildly experimental mix really takes off into something more thrilling, as on the disc's magnum-opus, a close-on-twelve-minute composition of Matt's, the Thomas The Rhymer Suite, which grows enticingly out of one of the traditional tunes associated with that ballad. Here the pipes themselves take on a kind of eastern aura too, with some quite spine-tinglingly expressive results. Cut And Dry Dolly contains some suitably vital percussive adventures, and the triple-time hornpipe Clarty Bitch is transformed into a somewhat more manic extravaganza. The closing pair of tracks also showcases considerable crossover imagination: Sour Plums O' Galashiels, based on a circa-1700-vintage air that's used as a Border pipes test piece, is contrasted with Damascus Drum, which is actually described as a Scottish pipe reel in an Arabian mode.
I did find one drawback with this CD however: that of its recording, which (the pipes in particular) comes over as too forwardly recorded, with the result that a certain harshness of tone detracts from the potential enjoyment and makes for less than comfortable listening at times. But the musicianship and commitment of Matt and his merry band is never in any doubt.
David Kidman, netrhythms
Outside of the Border region folk circuit and the specialist niche-world of pipe music publications, Matt Seattle is probably best known for the album he recorded in 1999 for DGM's short-lived Present Moment series, Out of the Flames.
Seattle's interest in mingling the quicksilver sounds which emerge from the pipes with other non-standard instrumentation led to him collaborate with another Present Moment signing, Mr.McFall's Chamber, for Border Seasons (2001), in which the pipes found a surprisingly able ally in a string quartet.
That adventurous approach has been followed in Matt's current venture whereby bouzouki and the expressive darabuka drum add a touch of extra texture and spicy tang. Here the jaunty nature of the mix of traditional and original tunes which the group produces makes for some hale and hearty listening.
Yet there are also moments of magic and mystery. On the epic Thomas The Rhymer Suite, the mandolin-driven melody trickles out a series of shimmering notes, whisked up by the pipes in an exhilarating rush. The yearning introduction to Damascus Drum takes the pipes into a decidedly exotic mode, quickly building to a rousing finale. Reivers of the Heart is as passionate a celebration of melody as you're likely to hear.
Sid Smith, Sid Smith's Postcards From The Yellow Room