The latest recording by Cape Breton fiddle
player Natalie MacMaster, mischievously titled "My Roots Are
Showing", is great fun to listen to. This is a marvellous CD, full of
range and thought, and showcasing an artist at the peak of her form. It's
also a very traditional offering, as the liner notes illustrate. This is
another example of how useful and informative liner notes in a CD can be and
how great it is when they are. To give you some idea: The first cut,
"Hey, Johnny Cope!" (consisting of the march--Johnny Cope, with
variations, and several reels: Dowd's Favorite, Paresis, The Peeler's
Jacket, Lady Georgina Campbell) has the following printed underneath it:
"This Classic 6 part G minor setting of Johnny Cope was first recorded on a 78
disc by Margaree fiddler Angus Allan Gillis. Both Dowd's Favorite and Peresis
are reels which evolved from 18th century Scottish Strathspeys. The Flannel
Jacket, a popular 19th century Irish reel, was recorded by Johnny Wilmot in
the 60's. The medley concludes with Lady Georgina Campbell, a Scottish reel
associated with another Angus Allan Gillis 78 recording."
That was one of the shorter paragraphs discussing the origins of the tunes!
Several of them go on much longer and in greater depth... and yet I get the
feeling they're still just scratching the surface. It's fascinating to read
where these tunes were learned by Natalie, who has previously recorded them
and when, and (where known) who wrote them. All in all, I count eleven books
of fiddle music cited here. There are also numerous mentions of recordings by
such people as Bill Lamey, The MacLellan Trio, Winston Fitzgerald, Paddy
Killoran, Carl MacKenzie, Dan R. MacDonald, Dan Joe MacInnes, The Five
MacDonalds, and Angus Chisholm, among others. An expanded version of these
liner notes would make a great book.
As for the music... there's a lot here. It's a CD of satisfying length.
Among the gems are a previously unpublished hornpipe by Dan R. MacDonald
called "A Salute to Angus Chisholm", a J. P. Cormier tune called
"the E flat Reel" that's great fun, and it's followed by an
equally fun tune Natalie says she first heard David Greenberg play, called
"The Recluse". There's something called "The Wildcat"
that has Natalie's voice opening it up, with a bit of her trademark
playfulness. There's an air called "A' Chuthag (The Cuckoo)" which
the notes tell us Natalie heard sung as a Gaelic song and played as an
instrumental before developing her own arrangement (a bit of Gaelic in that
music, eh!? Somebody who speaks Gaelic, let me know, will you?). And to wrap
up the CD, the final cut is a session called "A Glencoe Dance Set"
that was recorded live and has Natalie's uncle Buddy MacMaster playing along
as well. It's the kind of foot-stomping live set that makes you feel like
you're there, except you know you're not... you know you missed it. (Great
stuff, but it's depressing too!)
An extra treat is the cover photo of Natalie's "Roots", which is labeled
inside (quite a collection of Camerons, MacDonalds, Beatons, and MacMasters).
And, for those fiddlers out there, the following: "Natalie uses a French
fiddle which was made in 1927 by Marc LaBerte. It was given to her by Bill
Burnett of Barrie, Ontario. This fiddle belonged to the late Bill Crawford and
it has been repaired and maintained for Natalie by Jim Danson of Tantallon,
If there is a better recording of Cape Breton fiddle playing, I have yet to
hear it. This is a CD that has a lot of subtlety and life, and each time I
listen to it, I'm getting more out of it. I highly recommend it.