Now more institution than musical group, the Battlefield Band delivers strong Celtic pop.
Now more institution than musical group, the Battlefield Band delivers strong Celtic pop.


Scotland's Celtic-folk agglomeration the Battlefield Band fairly defines the term "warhorse." Through its 30 years and 26 albums, the group has possibly gone through more lineup changes than even the Platters or Paul Revere and the Raiders. Not that this is a washed-up outfit -- far from it. The Battlefield Band has pulled off a rare feat: It has transcended mere band-dom and has become almost as much a tradition as the music it plays.

Much as Muddy Waters was able to keep a damn good group together despite losing musicians of note over the years, the Battlefield Band marches on confidently with its ever-shifting cast of characters. Today only keyboardist/vocalist/patriarch Alan Reid survives from the original Nixon-era lineup. Accompanied by fiddling wunderkind John McCusker, the delectable vocalist Karine Polwart and the hirsute Los Angeles-born piper Mike Katz, Reid's current lineup is, as one British scribe once put it, "more gifted than Christmas."

Known to mix in far-flung fruits of the Celtic diaspora, as in "Rollin' on the River" and "Bad Moon Risin'" (both composed, after all, by a man named Fogerty), the Battlefield Band aims to please the booty as well as the mind. If it can be believed, the group has adapted the work of a composer even less likely than Fogerty to marshal a St. Paddy's Day parade, Wilson "Wicked" Pickett. The Battlefield Band has transformed Pickett's "Land of 1,000 Dances" into a paean to all things Celtic and American, "The Band of 1,000 Chances." Clearly this is not an academic bunch of preservationists, but a group that likes to engage in some envelope-pushing, purists be damned. To this outfit, a successful show is one in which the audience dances in the aisles, and the music, to quote a song, goes "forward with Scotland's past."


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