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World Music CD Reviews Europe


Published May 5, 2006

Cape Breton Tradition

The Dusky Meadow

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island claims more fiddlers per capita than any place on the planet. Contemporary audiences thrill to the fretted excellence of performers like Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, Jerry Holland, the Barra MacNeils, and the Rankins. Ask them about influences and Buddy MacMaster and Donald MacLellan are at the top of lists. To hear these new recordings is to tap into the wellspring from which modern Cape Breton music bubbles. This is especially true for MacMaster, Natalie’s uncle and first teacher. He plays with the same hoppy exuberance of his niece and, at 79, can still toss off amazing doublings and ornaments. The 84-year-old MacLellan, a mainstay on Canadian radio in the ’40s, retains his touch on his first new project in 40 years. He plays in a rough-hewn kitchen-dance style, the master of old-style strathspeys largely lost in Scotland during Victorian times. Both fiddlers cut their teeth playing for celidhs, and neither allows virtuosity to get in the way of the dancers’ feet. Lively piano from Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnes and Doug McPhee accompanies the respective albums.