Battlefield Band – Zama Zama Try Your Luck

Album Review | Temple | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

For thirty years now Battlefield Band have been making their own distinctive blend of Scottish traditional and Celtic music and have released almost as many albums in that time. Now pretty much settled into their current line-up of founder member Alan Reid together with Highland piper Mike Katz, fiddle player Alasdair White and guitarist Sean O’Donnell, we are once again dazzled by the band’s intuitive playing and thought provoking lyrics. Their new release Zama Zama Try Your Luck probably has the most curious title of all Battlefield albums to date, but once you take a closer look and lend an attentive ear, it all becomes much clearer. With extensive sleeve notes, the listener is invited to ponder over the reasons, whys and wherefores of how gold has figured in our lives, from the little band that cuts off our circulation, metaphorically and literally, to the definitive symbol of ultimate greed. Alan Reid’s “Robber Barons”, the first single release from this collection, compares for instance, the greed of yesterday to that of today and argues that not much has changed since the Middle Ages. The purpose of the cover photograph of a cigar-chewing tycoon at the poker table becomes abundantly clear as the songs reveal our inherent obsession with this most sought after bling. In “Uamh An Oir” (Cave of Gold), Allan MacDonald makes a guest appearance accompanying himself on small pipes and singing a beautiful air in Scottish Gaelic, which segues into Mike Katz’s plaintive “Zama Zama Boys”, accompanying himself on the Highland Pipes. The Zama Zama Boys (Zama Zama translated from the Zulu for ‘try your luck’) refers to illegal gold miners working in impossible conditions north of Johannesburg and whose endeavours eventually cost them their lives, when disaster inevitably strikes. Battlefield Band always like to surprise us; who could forget their reworking of the old Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Bad Moon Rising” for instance. On this album, Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring” is given the Battlefield treatment and re-assesses the song, using it in the overall context of the album, as another sign of the power of gold, and not just a song of unrequited love. The album when all said and done has the potential to be recognised as the Celtic soundtrack for our current economic downturn and financial Armageddon. If the Reverend Willie G was ever in search of a Highland Piper to join ZZ Top, he would need look no further than Battlefield’s Mike Katz who would fit quite nicely into the hot rod scene aesthetically if not quite musically. Mike’s assortment of whistles and pipes help to give Battlefield Band their distinctive sound and nowhere better on the instrumental pieces throughout the album, such as “The Mines of Golkonda”, “Black Ruairidh’s” and “The Pretty Apron”, the closing track, which incidentally features a tune called “The Flirting Brown Maid”, the chords of which suggest “Purple Haze” of all things. Now there’s a thought, Battlefield plays Hendrix. Wouldn’t put it past ‘em. Zama Zama Try Your Luck is a timely release, which should provoke at least a moment or two of reflective thought, whilst at the same time, stimulate our musical senses.