Blarvuster Reviewed in the Spring 2011 Signal to Noise Magazine

Bagpiper Matthew Welch released his striking debut Ceol Nua just past the age of 25, and followed it up three years later with Dream Tigers, one of 2005’s best. The multi-talented New Yorker’s work is marked by the exploration of intersections between incongruous ethnic musical traditions. As always, his cross-cultural collisions on Blarvuster sound both excitingly novel and uncannily natural. On the first six tracks, Welch’s bagpipes lead his sextet through verdant Celtic terrain, buttressed by a rock rhythm section and peppered with Indonesian flourishes. It’s Welch at his most straightforwardly melodic, the joyous arrangements fluidly serpentine, their beauty intricately woven like a Celtic knot. Welch’s debut as a vocalist, though, may provide the bumps in the road for some listeners. He sings wordless canntaireachd (a system developed to aid bagpipers in the communication of music without pipes at the ready), whose high pitch and nasal quality doesn’t mesh as well with the music as his bagpipes, though they add a nice bit of gristle to the smoother tracks. Blarvuster ends with Canntaireachd Masolah, a 30-minute Eastern-influenced opera in four movements. Welch’s canntaireachd meshes more organically this time around, and the music has a moody and mysterious air that communicates emotion with nary an understandable word. Welch’s music is equally appealing intellectually and aesthetically, and Blarvuster is another strong entry in an already impressive oeuvre.

– Adam Strohm

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