Back to her roots

Doug
Doug Gallant
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I remember the first time I heard Natalie MacMaster play as if it were yesterday.

It was in Halifax, 1998, during the East Coast Music Awards.

Barry Kent, then the Maritime rep for EMI Music, had invited me to drop by The Lord Nelson Hotel for the launch of singer-songwriter Bruce Guthro's major label debut, Of Your Son.

Part-way through what was already an exceptional evening of music, Guthro introduced MacMaster as a special guest.

I had heard MacMaster's name before but had never heard her play. It was not intentional, I had just not had the opportunity.

That night proved to be something of a revelation.

Her playing was fluid and beautifully expressive, adding a whole other layer of colour and texture to Guthro's songs.

It was clear that every note she played came from the heart.

In the ensuing years, I have seen MacMaster play more than a dozen times, and every time I hear her play I take away the same sentiments.

And it doesn't matter what she's playing, whether it's the traditional music of her beloved Cape Breton or something of a more contemporary nature.

I have enjoyed her excursions into rock, jazz, flamenco and other genres of music and I applaud her adventurous spirit and her diversity.

But I must confess that when she returns to the traditional Celtic music that first brought her to our attention, my level of interest in her work begins to rise.

And my level of interest is on the rise again.

That's because MacMaster just recently released Cape Breton Girl, an album devoted solely to traditional Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle music.

"I just wanted to do a straight-ahead, traditional record," MacMaster said recently. "I find that they're becoming less and less common."

Recorded at Glenn Gould Studios in Toronto with a stellar group of players that included keyboard player Mac Morin and guitarists Dave MacIsaac, Scott MacMillan and Brad Davidge, MacMaster's first new album in five years features a sterling collection of jigs, reels, strathspeys and other tunes, broken into several medleys.

While MacMaster uses other instruments - bass, snare drum, whistle, flute and occasionally bagpipes - the bulk of the album is taken up by what she terms the core instruments of Cape Breton music: piano and fiddle.

MacMaster feels very good about this record.

And well she should.

More than any other record she has done in the last number of years it speaks to who she is.

It embraces those values which she holds most dear - family, tradition, home and faith.

It is a record filled with passionate, heartfelt performances and brimming with the infectious spirit of a Cape Breton ceilidh.

Those who've longed to hear MacMaster make another record like those she recorded early in her career will find what they're looking for here.

For what it's worth, we should count our blessings she found the time to make the record at all.

Much of her time these days is taken up by the never-ending responsibilities that come with motherhood. MacMaster and her husband, acclaimed violinist Donnell Leahy, have four children, all under the age of seven.

Choice offerings on Cape Breton Girl include the Butcher's Jig Set which includes The Butcher's March, Angus Chisholm's and McInerney's Fancy; the Stoney Lake Reels set, which includes H. Mackworth, Lady Georgina Russell's, Tom Marshe's Hornpipe and Stoney Lake; and the My Brother Kevin medley, made up of The Fir Tree, Miss Gordon's of Fochabar, Lady Muir MacKenzie, The Lasses of Stewarton and Mrs. Norman MacKeigan.

And I love her work on Our Father / Ar n-Athair (The Lord's Prayer / an Phaidir).

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at dgallant@theguardian.pe.ca or 629-6000, ext. 6057.

Organizations: EMI Music, Glenn Gould Studios, The Guardian Ar n-Athair

Geographic location: Cape Breton, Halifax, Toronto

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