The Dances Down Home
This album is one of a series of 30 released by Rounder Records in celebration of its 30th Anniversary. From an original catalogue of 3,000 albums each album in the series has been compiled and re-mastered from the original tapes to introduce North American traditions and its performers to a wider audience. This CD has been compiled from currently unavailable sources: some from recordings released as LPs in the mid 1970s and now out of date and others recorded but never released.
Cape Breton fiddle music is for dancing. The remoteness of the community and the difficulties of communication and travel kept an unadulterated tradition preserved and alive. Cape Breton Island was originally inhabited by French settlers, but was resettled in the 19th Century by a group of Scots highlanders. Joe Cormier was born and raised in French speaking Cheticamp where the main social events were winter weddings lasting several days and nights and house parties. The family household was always full of music and was a gathering ground for local musicians.
An early source of inspiration for Joe was Placide Odo, an immensely talented fiddler who provided the music for the all night weddings and social gatherings - unaccompanied. The legacy of that experience is very clear in Joe's style: he has a superb sense of rhythmic expression: astounding clear, bright melodies with wonderful emphasis and attack in high precision bowing. The piano accompaniment on many of the tracks on this CD is very understated in the mix and quite different in sound from the more dominant lively piano sound which many have come to associate with Cape Breton fiddle music. However, careful listening will reveal delightful rhythmic and varied chordal embellishments which enhance and complement the fiddle. The strong and occasionally booming electric bass is mostly a regular 2 beats to the bar, following a standard chord sequence which is sometimes at variance with the piano sequences.
The selections on this album are a mix of Scottish traditional jigs, reels, hornpipes and strathspeys, and more recent Cape Breton compositions. The beginning six tracks and the final six tracks are from the same LP released in 1974, giving an exciting mix of jig, reel , strathspey , march and hornpipe rhythms. There are breathtaking displays of clarity and rhythm, Fiddlers will be awed by the apparent ease of cross string bowing: just how many years do we have to practise to get anywhere near it ... Listen out for a spectacular set of variations on track 7. Track 9 is recorded more recently in 1996 and has an easier mix for those listening for the interplay between fiddle and piano. Track 10 (again more recently recorded) is a delightful set: an air followed by a lovely rendering of Banks Hornpipe with guitar accompaniment which gives full exposure to Joe's technical virtuosity and interpretation.
The booklet accompanying the album deserves special mention. It is a well written and interesting mine of information. It gives the reader real insights into the musical influences on a society and an individual, and helps us to know and appreciate the experiences which have shaped what we are hearing.
This collection is a must for anyone interested in Cape Breton music, and for fiddlers wishing to be inspired. It is not music to relax to - your feet will do as they will. Just enjoy the superb clarity and drive and let your feet get on with it.
Fran Wade - 22.2.02
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