Croft No. Five, Talk of the Future (Planet Five, 2004)
Dochas, Dochas (Macmeanmna, 2002)
Peatbog Fairies, Croftwork (Peatbog, 2005)

Scottish Celtic bands can be based in cities or rural areas. Those based in the outlying areas can have a very interesting take on how they present their music. This omnibus features three bands from the outlying areas of Scotland. Two outfits, Croft No. Five and the Peatbog Faeries, work on a very contemporary and modern style and the other, Dochas, adheres to traditional methods. Each approach is valid and yields intriguing results.

Talk of the Future is the second album from Scottish band Croft No. Five, whose debut album was released on Foot Stompin Records some years ago. By using heavy drum programs and samples as their back beat, Croft No. Five makes modern Scottish music with a difference. Think Martyn Bennett's seminal 'Bothy Culture' album for influences and add in some quirky European jazz elements, rock pyrotechnics and a traditional-sounding melody line and you have Croft No. Five's approach. This is neo-Celtic Scots music, heavy on the rhythm tracks and the in-your-face audacity is a real blast of bothy culture. '80 Euros' is a flashy jazz-inflected exercise, while 'Vit Zone' moves in post-rock-type industrial landscapes before a slow reel on box and fiddle creeps through. 'Cyanara' is a spacious chilled-out amble. Chill-out atmospherics, dub rhythms, and full-on psychodrama in kilts -- Talk of the Future is an appropriate title, as this is Scottish music for the 22nd Century.

Sandwiched between two of the more experimental ends of the Scottish spectrum in Croft No. Five and Skye's Peatbog Faeries are Dochas. This female quintet plays music with measured pace and clear Gaelic vocals. By playing acoustic, they are a contrast to the boisterous dynamics found in these other two albums. This self-titled debut album was released in 2002 to positive reactions, and since then they have added a male member in bodhran player Martin O'Neill and released a second album. However, let us go back to 2002 and Dochas.

Dochas, on this album, comprises Julie Fowlis from North Uist who on this recording plays whistles, oboe and sings; Kathleen Boyle on accordion, keyboards and guitar; piper Carol Anne Mackay; Eilidh McLeod on clarseach; and fiddler Jenna Reid. 'Chuir iads Mise dh'Eilean Leam Fhin' opens with Fowlis' voice complimented by harp, fiddle, whistle and lush synthesizers. Experimentation isn't on the agenda; the sound is rich and melodic while their take on dance tunes is accessible yet sensitive. Occasionally one hears elements of mid-'80s all-female band Sprangeen and other outfits like The Battlefield Band and Ossian, but the Dochas sound adheres to the traditional side of Scottish music and they're very sensitive in their treatment of it without resorting to sounding precious. The mix of local ballads and walking songs mixed with Irish and Scots tunes and local airs is subtle and even-keeled throughout. This is a quality effort.

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Coming in on the wave of mid-'90s experimental Scottish folk bands, the Peatbog Faeries often mixed tradition with innovation. The Skye outfit's fourth album Croftwork again treads the terrain from dance floor frenzy to after-hours chill-out and the very bizarre, to say the least. Working from the same off-radar stance as Croft No. Five, the Peatbog Faeries apply dance dynamics to Scottish music, which results in contemporary Scottish music with a strong traditional footing. Piper Peter Morrison writes tunes that allow room for everything from bagpipes to swirling brass sections as exemplified in the opener 'Scots on the Rocks'. 'Weakened' reminds of Moving Hearts in its mix of reeds and brass and clever assimilations of jazz and Celtic music. The title track 'Croftwork' is simply bizarre, heading into post-rock territory overlaid with bagpipes. Not for the faint-hearted or the very traditional listener, 'Croftwork' is bold and courageous.

Three different outfits playing Scottish music: two of them freely using modern technology and outside influences to create music for the dance floor and the heady moments afterwards, the other playing to the more celestial and traditionally flavored elements and providing music rich in melody, grace and accomplishment. Maybe I am not one for the clubs as I once was, but Dochas remains my favorite of these three recordings.

[John O'Regan ]