For most people the words “bagpipe music” conjure up an image of pure kitsch: men wearing swathes of tartan and funny hats, marching around playing the same shrill tune. Andrew Douglas, a member of the top-grade Simon Fraser University Pipe Band out of Vancouver, is very familiar with this perception, but he is the ideal person to prove it false. Douglas is one of the bagpipe world’s rising stars. He treats the bagpipe as just another instrument, rather than as a novelty. The result is Cill Chriosd.
In complex, delicate strokes the album tells the story of the feud between the MacKenzie and MacDonald clans. For example the album’s penultimate track, “The Burning of Cill Chriosd,” hauntingly tells how the MacDonalds set fire to the tiny church of Cill Chriosd and play the bagpipe while their adversaries burn inside.
The rest of the album is beautifully realized. Its whispered vocals and quiet guitar give way to the mourning wail of a well-played bagpipe. During “Echoes,” the guitar and bagpipe share the spotlight, blending and producing a simultaneously angry and peaceful harmonies. “Celebration of MacKenzies” begins with bubbly guitar before the complex drum rhythm kicks in and the bagpipe steals the show.
Cill Chriosd is more than just musically successful. It is successful also in breaking the bagpipe and its unique, haunting sound out of cheesy-Scottish mode. Andrew Douglas has crafted a sound both contemplative and stirring that transcends the “Celtic” label.