ARTIST: David Brewer

TITLE: Turning Pages

LABEL: David Brewer/Molri Music

By Roland Sturm

David_Brewer_CD_cover.jpgIf you enjoy Scottish bagpipe music and wanted to get a CD featuring this amazing instrument, the CD Turning Pages by David Brewer is a good place to start. David is the piper and whistle player of Molly's Revenge and the Scottish Highland pipes is his main instrument. The CD contains a mix of traditional pipe tunes, airs, marches, jigs, and reels.

The Scottish bagpipe is a somewhat odd instrument and there is not a huge amount of recorded music that has broad appeal because recordings tend to fall into two narrow camps. The better known camp is marching bands featuring pipes and drums, the minority camp is a solo style that can appear rather monotonous. Very rarely bands like Molly's Revenge or the Battlefield Band integrate Scottish bagpipes with other instruments, but the pipes are secondary on their recordings.

Turning Pages is a bagpipe CD, but it also includes fiddle, whistle, bodhran, guitar and organ in supporting roles, so that you don't get overwhelmed by pipes, which can have a dominating presence in a live setting. Special guests on David's CD include Scottish Fiddle Champion Rebecca Lomnicky, Irish guitarist George Grasso, and organist Jonathan Dimmock of the San Francisco Symphony.

The material is a mixture of 18th century Scottish tunes in new arrangements and some more recent compositions. The arrangements are well thought out and often with unexpected turns, including David doubling himself with harmony lines. Another interesting twist is a solo fiddle version of the Highland Brigade at Waterloo that turns into a fiddle/bagpipe duet. Rebecca Lomnicky's fiddling is terrific and she has a few other solo spots as well, including the strathspey Miller's Rant. Her playing also serves as a great introduction to Scottish fiddle. Probably the most striking tune on the CD is Jonathan Dimmock's composition Lone Mountain, a haunting melody that juxtaposes the rich sounds of the organ at San Francisco's St Ignatius Church with highland pipes (plus a fiddle interlude).

There is a nice story about David's piping history. As a teen he started playing regular gigs at a pub in Santa Cruz and started building a fan base, but his local fame reached a new level when his bagpipes were stolen from the pub. The pipes were never recovered, but the community came together and raised enough money to not only replace the stolen pipes, but also send him to Scotland to study with master teachers.

Since coming back, David's main band has been Molly's Revenge, also featuring fiddler John Weed, guitar/mandola player Stuart Mason, and singer/bouzouki player Pete Haworth. When not on tour, David teaches in the Santa Cruz area and does studio work. He has played on commercials, the PBS special on Andrew Jackson, and more than a dozen studio albums of various musical styles.

If you don't get a chance to see them before, David and Molly's Revenge will be on the main stage at the 50th Topanga Banjo Fiddle Festival on May 16, 2010.

Roland Sturm is Professor of Policy Analysis at the RAND Graduate School and usually writes on health policy, not music. He is the talent coordinator of the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest and leads the monthly Celtic sessions at CTMS. These days he mainly plays upright bass and mandolin.