Review by John Bushby

It’s always good to have a new piping CD drop through the letterbox.  This CD is by two accomplished US musicians from I assume New Hampshire, Maine, USA.
Will may be well known to Scottish musicians in Glasgow as he is a graduate of the Traditional Music course at Glasgow’s Conservetoire.
Although Sunny Hills was released earlier this year and has had airplay already in Scotland, this is the first time I have heard it
Will plays Border pipes and flute on this CD and Eric plays guitar and mandolin and sings.  The pipes are ‘complex’ border pipes, in that they have an extended range and a contra bass A drone.  Will made these pipes along side pipe maker Nate Banton.  So are they Border pipes or something else?  I am a sucker for drones and felt a bit more of the drones on the CD wouldn’t have gone amiss especially the contra bass.
The music on the CD is a mixture of tunes, mainly from the highland tradition with the majority on pipes and guitar, some flute tracks and also three songs from Eric, namely Caledonia – a song from Cape Breton and refers to the Caledonia coal mines in Glace Bay; Charlie, oh Charlie and my favourite on the recording a version of The Bleacherlass of Kelvinhaugh coupled with the pipe march Dark Lowers the Night. Here is very pleasing and melodious combination of mandolin, flute and voice.  
I won’t go through all the tracks, suffice to say, for me the standout instrumental track sound wise and instrument wise is track 7, The Garden of Skye/Lime Hill/Captain Byng. Lime Hill  was written by Cape Breton Musician, Dan R McDonald.  The track is a lovely combination of pipes and mandolin which I feel works very well.  
The majority of the tunes as I said earlier are from the highland piping repertoire, though not all and it is refreshing to hear them played with spirit and feeling and not the flashy 100mph speed of many instrumental CDs.  The musicians obviously show great feeling and love towards the music.  I must say as a bellow piper myself it is nice to hear these tunes without the inevitable highland gracing – it gives them a more raw and exciting edge.
Not everything is perfect, which in many ways is good because it shows the musicians are human and the pipes ‘organic’.  I suppose one quibble is that the intonation is not always spot on.  Though does this matter?  Maybe not.  
The CD was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and while this is good it does limit balance of instruments if there is too much spill.  I found the overall sound fairly flat and instruments appeared at very much the same level, especially when it was pipes and guitar.  The drones were lost in the general sound to my ears.
I would have liked a bit more separation/balance of instruments and voice and find the overall sound a bit dry and feel a bit more of judicious reverb ( was there any?) might not have gone astray.  This however is only a technical and personal taste of the reviewer.  
Although it was a ‘live’ sound they were after that is fine, however I feel if you are in a studio you may as well use a few more options that are available such as the odd overdub of flute maybe behind the pipes in some tracks and maybe, as Will plays it, some whistle as well just to give a bit of added sparkle.  I see recording as like an aural painting and if you have colours there to use, then use them.  Create an aural picture is my recording philosophy.  
I have had a few listens to the CD and although there are the odd musical rough edges it certainly improves on listening.  Best of all though it shows the love and enthusiasm for the music and piping from two talented musicians.  
It is a CD I will listen to more than once!  I may even pinch a couple of tunes!  That is what a CD should be like.  Not listened to once then put on the shelf, which I have been known to do with even piping recordings.
Better still, buy yourself a copy, sit down and enjoy along with your favourite tipple.
It is available via

Will Woodson and Eric McDonald on The Sunny Hills