Coming from Germany and playing the traditional Scottish instrument of the bagpipes, Thomas Lukassek is as unique an artist as he is a talented one. His skills are not isolated to just this instrument, he also has been trained on the piano, flute, harmonica, accordion, low whistle, uilleann, border, and small pipes. A few of these instruments, along with some others, take their place alongside the bagpipes on Lukassek’s 2013 instrumental album, A Day in Full Dress. Though Lukassek shows a great amount of talent as a musician, some of his arrangements are a little lackluster, while others are stellar. The result is a bit of an uneven record.
Lukassek opens his album with the simply titled, “8th.” The song becomes a perfect introduction to the sound of the album as it sports not only the bagpipes, but guitar, whistle, and a strong percussion track. The bagpipes are a little softer in the audio mix, a wise decision since their distinct sound doesn’t need to be loud to be noticeable. The first minute of the song eschews the bagpipes entirely and we get to hear a low, gentle whistle over a rhythm guitar. After this section the bagpipes start up and carry the song through to its closing. The simple backing track of that unwavering rhythm guitar and drums gets repetitive though and after a while it feels like the song is repeating itself.
A similar situation occurs on “King of Laois.” The backing track on this song consists of a crisp sounding drum loop that repeats itself in pretty short order. You can very much appreciate the sound of the bagpipes here in all of its rich tones, but the heavy handed drum loop is too repetitive to ignore. More instrumentation or at least a drum performance with more variation could’ve broken up the monotony of the sound. Compare this to “Rocking the Seann Truibahs” where the first half of the piece is sparse and quaint but then opens up into a livelier track complete with hard hitting power chords from the guitar near the song’s end.
Much to Lukassek’s credit, he also has songs here that are so driving and engaging, you can easily lose all sense of time and become enamored by the music. “Alasdair’s Reel” may well be the strongest song here. The driving rhythm has kind of a modern dance beat to it that continuously thumps away with great force. Over this Lukassek plays his bagpipes in what basically amounts to two tremendous solos with a soft pipe break between them. Not only is the track fun, but it also goes a long way towards displaying the amount of control and fervor Lukassek plays with.
In strong competition for the best song here is the magnificent, “Donan Island,” an original composition of Lukassek’s. As quiet as the song starts, to the sound of soft percussion and pipes, it builds to include a wonderful piano melody, a taught bass line, amazing bagpipes, and a violin to top it all off. The arrangement of everything is nothing short of beautiful. Not one note sounds out of place and Lukassek makes all the disparate elements fit together seamlessly.
It’s odd then that there are songs where this doesn’t happen. “Ghille Callum” sounds like a musical experiment gone wrong. As it opens with a rumbling guitar and leaves that sound to go towards the bagpipes and violin, the song then builds up an odd percussion sound that doesn’t really fit with anything else. There’s also a recurring hard guitar that sounds tremendously out of place, and the violin seems to completely disappear at some point. It’s some sort of odd amalgamation of noise that comes out in dissonant form. The title track is guilty of this to an extent too. During the first half of the song there’s a section in which the bagpipes are accompanied by a low whistle, but the two sounds don’t mesh very well, especially with the percussion track that backs the two instruments.
For the missteps made on “Ghille Callum,” “8th,” or “King of Laois,” you also have the gems like the rocking, “Ardelve Tide,” serene “Tailor’s Dream” and beautifully executed and fierce closing track of “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.” A Day in Full Dress isn’t a perfect album, but it’s an enjoyable listen. Thomas Lukassek shows himself to be a very talented multi-instrumentalist and composer, even if his ambition sometimes gets the better of him. If you enjoy bagpipes and/or Celtic music, it’s worth your time and money to give Lukassek a listen.
Artist: Thomas Lukassek
Album: A Day in Full Dress
Review by: Heath Andrews