Despite his being a respected musician throughout North America, this appears to be the first solo album from Minnesota-based Dick Hensold. The remit here is to explore and expand the role of Hensold’s main instrument, the Northumbrian smallpipes. The album opens fairly conventionally with ‘Mysteries of Knock’, a tune from Ryan’s Mammoth Collection (a well known collection of folk tunes from 1883) that introduces Hensold’s confident, accomplished piping style. It is lively, bouncy and unsubtle – on hearing it my friend compared it to the music from Super Mario played by leprechauns, which is a surprisingly fitting description!
The second track is the first of several original compositions by the author, an attractive air entitled ‘First Leaves of Spring’ that winds gently around the harp, fiddle and whistle of Cathy Victorson, Bruce Bowers and Laura MacKenzie respectively. Next, Hensold’s academic eye informs the choice of ‘New Way to Morpeth’, a recently rediscovered tune from the 1700s that earns its keep musically as well as musicologically. Elsewhere Hensold experiments with different accompanists. Troy MacGillivray provides some enjoyably romping piano on two numbers, whilst ‘Zo Cansdale of Hartburn’ and ‘Lance Robson’s Jig’ both place the smallpipes in larger ensembles. The former in particular deserves a mention as a gentle nine-piece arrangement of a Hensold original paying tribute to the late lady of the title. It’s a shame the pipes are a little high in the mix. Most interesting is ‘Rheung Knome Jop Hai’, a surprisingly natural sounding collaboration with Cambodian hammered dulcimer (khim) player, Bun Loeung.
Big Music for Northumbrian Smallpipes isn’t going to go down in my list of classic albums – the smallpipes remain a fairly brash instrument however skilfully they are played, and at times (like on Hensold’s variations on ‘My Ain Kind Dearie’) the album is more of a technical than a musical achievement. Nonetheless, this is recommended for open-minded music fans and a must for anyone with an interest in the smallpipes.
(Ten Thousand Lakes, 2007)