Traditional Fiddle Music of Cape Breton

Volume 1 - Mabou Coal Mines
Volume 2 - The Rover's Return

Rounder CD 7037 / 7038

Volume 1:
Fr Angus Morris: The Countess of Crawford; The Connoisseur; Miller's; Miss Charlotte Alston Steward's; Willie MacKenzie's.  Gregory Campbell: Doctor MacLeod of Alnick.  Rannie MacLellan: The Man in the Moon; Highlander Over the Border; Smash the Windows; The Frost is All Over.  Alex Francis: Mr Marshall's Favorite.  Johnny MacLeod: A Trip to Mabou Ridge; Mabou Coal Mines; Sir Reginald MacDonald; Miss Wedderburn.  Fr Angus: Mo Mhàthair; The Strong Man of Drum; Knit the Pocky; Wedderburn House; Mr Menzies of Culdare; Lord Drummond.  Alex Francis: Christy Campbell; Anthony Murray; Bodach Fodair ('The Straw Man').  Gregory Campbell: The Athole Highlanders's Farewell to Loch Katrine; Miss Maude's; The Editor's Favorite; St Kilda Wedding; The Smith's Burn; The Bridge of Bamore.  Alex Francis: Queen Elizabeth's; Lady Dorothea Stewart Murray's Wedding; Scotland's Salute to the Home Guard.  Fr Angus: A Tribute to Elizabeth Beaton; Traditional; Traditional; The Yetts of Muckart; Tramper Down.  Rannie MacLellan: Strath-Spé; Struan Robertson's; Bog an Lachan; Flora MacDonald; Traditional; Johnny Sullivan's; The Nine Pint Coggle; The $10 Fiddle.  Johnny MacLeod: The Rover's Return; The Irishman's Heart to the Ladies; Cock o' the North.  Alex Francis: The North Hunt Medley; The Stormont Lads; Cutty Sark; Lady Georgina Campbell.  Fr Angus: Captain Campbell; Hoch Hey Johnny Lad; Lucy Cambpell; Colonel McBain's Fancy; Andrew Fulton's; The Smith's Burn.  Duration 70:48.

Volume 2:
Willie Kennedy: George I Taylor; The Braes of Tullymet; The Marquis of Huntley; Lord Kelly's Reel; Sir Archibald Grant of Monemusk's; Pigeon on the Gate; You and I; Paddy on the Turnpike; The Sheepwife.  Francis MacDonald: Dòmhnull Cléireach; Homeward Bound; Cheap Meal.  Willie and Morgan: Bill Lamey's; Angus Joseph MacDonald's; Over the Cabot Trail; Leona Beaton; The Rover's Return; Pet of the Pipers.  John MacDougall: Lament for Sir Harry Niven Lunsden; Baronet of Achindoir; Miss Wharton Duff; Isle of Skye; Lady Georgina Russell's.  Morgan MacQuarrie: O'er the Muir Among the Heather; Lady Mary Ramsay's; Celtic Ceilidh; Homeward Bound; Francis Beaton's; Jenny Dang the Weaver.  Allan and Morgan: Coilsfield House; Kilravock; The Duke of Gordon's Birthday; Sir Archibald Grant's of Monemusk's; The Bear in the Buckwheat.  Gordon - piano solo: Lamb Holm; Blackthorn; The Disturber; Leaving For Ireland.  Willie Kennedy: Minnie Foster's; Fred Wilson's; Archie Menzies; Mr Bernard; Mrs Charles Stewart of Pettvaich; The Fisher's Wedding; Perth Assembly.  Francis MacDonald: My Compliments to James D Gillis; Cameron Chisholm's Birthday.  John A Gillis: Scotsville; West Margaree; Put Me in the Big Chest.  Morgan MacQuarrie: Traditional; The Leg of a Duck; Gillan an Drover; Off to Donnybrook.  John MacDougall: The Taking of Beaumont Hamel; Lucy Campbell; Yester House; Miss Lyall; The Old King's; Muileann Dubh; Beaton's Delight; The Drummer; MacKinnon's Other Rant.  Duration 69:08.

Cape Breton Island [CBI] is a lovely place, so I'm told, which is situated just northeast of Nova Scotia, jutting into the North Atlantic Ocean, the same water that laps the shores of the ancestral home of most Cape Breton citizens, Scotland.  Great natural beauty and isolation are two of the characteristics that immediately come to mind when thinking of CBI.  If you have any musical inclinations, you are bound to also think of traditional Scottish fiddle music, for it abounds on the Island.  Amid a clamor for full disclosure in the current political and economical climate here in 'The States' (I live in Seattle) I must state that while my greatest musical love is with traditional southern music in the United States, I have been listening to CBI music for over thirty years.  And I must confess that my first exposure to it left me cold, as it was warm summer day at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto and the player was of the classical school.  To paraphrase Clayton McMichen, I didn't want to hear any 'violinister' music, I wanted 'Fiddling'.

It was not long afterwards that I found that all CBI fiddlers did not adhere to classical music tenets, thank goodness.  My first excursions, in the mid 1960s, in purchasing LPs of Scottish violin music were similarly dismal, as the emphasis there was on 'violin' and very much stilted, to my personal fiddle aesthetic.  CBI fiddle recordings were than quite scarce in Ohio, where I grew up, but by the early 1970s, a small record company near Boston started issuing some fine LPs of wonderful fiddling from that small Island.  I became familiar with names such as Joe Cormier, Jerry Holland, Theresa MacLellan, Carl MacKenzie, Buddy MacMaster ...  Actually seeing and hearing them, in person, however was another story.  My move to Seattle put more air-miles between CBI and me, but it made me significantly closer to opportunities to enjoy such fine players.  The Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, held annually on the Olympic Peninsula, regularly brought CBI to be on the master staff.  I had the great opportunity to see many of these legendary characters, as well as some I had little knowledge of, such as Willie Kennedy and Fr Angus Morris, both of whom appear on the anthologies under review here.  But more about that occurrence later.  Hearing these CBI greats fired my interest in the music.  Jody Stecher also whet my appetite.  He told me about the older-style players in Cape Breton whom he guessed I would love, as he knew my great interest in the 'grittier' players of American old-time tradition.  We also discussed the differences in scales between older fiddlers in many traditions versus those with classical training in 'European Art Music'.  A simplistic compaction of the argument might be boiled down to 'natural scale' and 'tempered scale'.  Your terminology may vary.

So I had many divergent threads of connection with the music of Cape Breton at the time I steeled my nerve and wrote a 'fan letter' to Mark Wilson, a person I knew little about but who had recorded, produced, and or edited some of the recordings over the years that have proven to be among my very favorite.  I wrote him in conjunction with the two CDs he co-produced with John Harrod and Guthrie Meade, Traditional Fiddle Music of Kentucky, volumes one and two (Rounder 0376 and 0377).  I will return to this relationship later in this review, but as part of my full disclosure, I must report that over the past several years I've regularly proof-read Mark's liner notes and commented on many of his projects as well as asking him for advice and feedback on my own projects.  I discovered his deep interest and knowledge of Cape Breton music and culture, and I ate it up.  He also told me I should delve deeper into it, as the fiddle traditions on the Island had a lot in common with southern US fiddling, in both repertoire and technique.  The common tune heritage was known to me, and I had some gut-feelings about the styles and techniques, but some relatively recent recordings that Mark had issued grabbed by the nape and shook some sense into me.  Some of our correspondence and conversations on this seemed to get the ball rolling for an essay that Mark assembled that can be enjoyed at  This is only one of many cognates or analogues that range from patently obvious to those more surreptitious.  Sometimes, searches for such analogues are what hook me into certain music, but as I look around at the 'scenery' where I then find myself, I am able to enjoy the whole show, rather than analogous research.  That is the angle I started into this review with, so bear with me, but hopefully you will enjoy the 'show' as much as I have.

These two CD anthologies have a lot in common with other sets previously issued on Rounder in the North American Traditions series [NATS], of which Mark Wilson is the general editor.  They usually have some sort of 'geographical' or stylistic containment to group them.  In this case, Volume One features musicians from the Mabou region, south of Lake Ainslie and near the west coast of the Island and Volume Two features musicians from Kenloch, north of Lake Ainslie (previous CDs in NATS focused on Theresa Morrison and her brother Joe MacLean, who were from Iona, on the centrally located lake, Bras d'Or; Willie Kennedy, heard in this set of anthologies, also has an entire CD devoted to him, Rounder 7043, as does Alex Francis MacKay, on Rounder 7020).  Other similarities this set shares with prior NATS issues are the devotion to older styles and extensive, detailed notes.  Without fail, when I listen to disks in NATS, each time I think of something salient that strikes me about the music, and each time I find that fact or thesis or postulation in the booklet already.  Mark apologizes in the booklet to those who might find the writing distracting, perhaps, from the music, with his historical annotations, tune histories, speculation of the movement of music and style.  I find them unusually rewarding, and priming my palate for more.  Kate Dunlay provides a wonderful essay on repertoire and style for Volume One, highly recommended reading.  Mark's essay beginning the booklet for Volume Two also comes highly recommended.  I could spend a great deal of this review regurgitating statements from both booklets, paraphrasing commentary on the individual tracks, since much of it echoes my own thought processes, but I am certain our editor would turn surly and concoct some particularly odious punishment for me.

However, let me delve into those notes and give you a sampling.  Kate Dunlay writes:

Exposure to other music and the requirements of producing commercial music have certainly re-ordered aesthetic priorities.  Fiddle music tends to be 'cleaner' these days.  Qualities such as non-standard tone color and intonation have been discouraged.  In effect, the palette of expression has shrunk.  Fiddlers who regularly present their music to audiences unfamiliar with the tradition have learned to make choices to please these audiences.  Playing long strings of tunes of similar modality in the Cape Breton way suits an audience attuned to the subtlety of Scottish or Irish melody, but outside ears do better with large-scale variety such as frequent key changes.  Thus that very subtlety can be lost.  Recorded medleys also have to be short enough for radio air-play, sometimes at the expense of development and mood.  Untrained ears appreciate speed more than they do traditional embellishments, and they may respond more when elements of popular music are combined with the traditional ...  Melodic substitution is somewhat limited in Cape Breton fiddling in comparison to other related traditions, due to an emphasis on correctness.
She also writes that the Island was relatively isolated for years and that the culture has been a conservative one.  CBI fiddlers always have valued 'correctness' in learning.  They continued to apply their own traditional styles to any new repertoires rather than becoming affected by contemporary Scottish style, something that keeps CBI repertoires ever-changing.  She also mentions that new tunes by CBI composers have been easily accepted into the repertoire.

Mark Wilson writes:

Not only is the music of Cape Breton tremendously attractive on its own aesthetic merits, its characteristics offer deep insights into the patterns of assimilation and change that shaped other North American forms of folk music during the previous three centuries.
This, of course, is the concept that ensnared me.  Continuing his discussion of the importance of this music, and of documenting it, Mark wrote:
Probably no region in North America has remained so loyal to its pioneer violin music as Cape Breton.  The village square dance remains a central part of everyday social life on the Island and the fiddle can still be heard virtually anywhere you wander.

Today's young musicians have become fully conversant with the popular revivalist bands of Ireland and Great Britain and generally play their tunes faster and sleeker than was the norm in former days.

Discussing other areas in the English speaking world:
Although an interest in fiddle music is on the rise, it has often assumed the form of a revivalist movement whose ties to its originating communities have become quite tenuous.

The ... sound of most of the younger players is appreciably different from that I heard on the Island when I first visited there some 30 years ago.  Local admirers call the older ways of playing 'old-style Scots music' and wistfully comment upon 'the flavor' that they miss in the new performers.

Mark quotes esteemed composer Dan R MacDonald: These new fiddlers are just like fast cars - it's a nice ride but they're going so fast on the tunes, they're missing all the scenery. and continues: All artists I have interviewed have attested to the burning desire to learn the fiddle that drove them in their youthful years and their attendant eagerness to drink in the sounds whenever possible.  He then anonymously quotes an older-style player: There's no personality in the music now.  The new musicians are all good players, but you can't tell one fiddler from another.  But in the old days you could always tell immediately who was playing. So, one of the driving factors in presenting this series is to expose an audience to the excitement of the older-styled music from the Island.

Cover picture Let's start into the music with Alex Francis MacKay, born in 1922, so one of the older fiddlers in this set.  Though use of drones in Scots fiddling, especially in the key of A, is common, I particularly like how MacKay handles it, with a nice sense of ornamentation.  His alternate usage of long-bow and quick strokes on the air Mr Marshall's Favorite could be a primer in how to play airs in the old-style.  play Sound ClipWe can listen to him under other circumstances, as well, playing solo fiddle in high bass, that is AEAE tuning, for the reel The Straw Man (sound clip).  This gives us a taste of the older-style dance music as it must have sounded in pre-amplification days.  There is rampant speculation, and contrasting reports, that the current use of the drone in the key of A is in emulation of the old 'high bass' tuning, tuned up to the higher pitch to increase volume.  I would weigh in on this side of the argument.  For a moment, going back to the issue of cognates - Christy Campbell, in this medley is considered to be related to the 'book tune' The Miller of Drone, which in turn is said by many to be an antecedent of the American fiddle standard Grey Eagle.

To hear an approach to airs different to Alex Francis MacKay's, we'll turn to the more violinistic approach by Fr Angus Morris (born in 1936).  Mo Mhàthair features the Padre's various approaches, all with strong, full tone.  Fr Angus is quoted in the notes: I taught myself to read music very early because I figured that if you learned to read music, then you could be sure that it would be correct when you played it.  But later, I found out that if it was 'Traditional,' then, if you played it, it was correct!'  While in comparison with the other old-style players on these two CDs, Fr Angus might sound more violinistic, in comparison with the bulk of CBI and Scottish players, he would seem to be more 'old-style' indeed.

The year he came out to the Fiddle Tunes festival with Willie Kennedy was quite interesting from many perspectives.  The very popular and accomplished Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser also was on staff that year.  Early in the week, when I went to the presentations by Kennedy and Morris, I couldn't help notice the sparsity of attendees but, had I wanted to, I could not have squeezed into the room where Alasdair Fraser held forth.  I recognized that part of the reason for this disparity of followers was that Fraser was quite well-known, had a large following, but also, he played with very clean, clear tone, big notes, something appealing to those raised on a classical music aesthetic.  To his great credit, and showing a great deal of respect, Alasdair took it upon himself to crusade amongst his followers for them to pay attention to the authentic and traditional players rather than to the pop icon that he'd himself become.  [Note, this is my personal interpretation of motive and result].  About midweek, Fraser made a point of letting his acolytes know that he was going to hear the old masters, and in a great gesture of symbolic proportions he literally and figuratively sat at their feet, enrapt by their playing, later joining in.  I think it did the trick, for they had a pretty respectably-sized crowd with them the rest of the week.  Pardon this tangent, but I felt it was a story worth relating.  It also is connected to my learning about those two fine players.

My favorite player on Volume One was Johnny MacLeod, born in 1927.  I'm sad to report that he died this past August, prior to the CD-release party on Cape Breton Island for these two anthologies, though he did receive advance copies of them before he passed, so he had a moment to savor these recordings.  His sudden demise, however, emphasizes the fragility of the old-style and stresses the urgency in documenting it.  Mark writes in the notes about how Cape Breton fiddlers create sets of tunes where tonality and 'feel' flow from one tune to another, inevitably varied from performance to performance, unlike many sets in the Irish tradition, such as those religiously copied from Michael Coleman's recorded canon.  Kate Dunlay elaborates on this: Medleys are made up of tunes where keys/modes are related, in that they have the same tonic or 'home' note.  A medley may visit any or all of the following modes: major, mixolydian (like major but with a lowered seventh scale degree), and dorian (like natural minor but with a raised sixth scale degree).  These latter two modes are not commonly found in Classical music or today's popular music, but occur often in traditional Irish and Scottish tunes.  play Sound ClipMixolydian nodes are especially popular in Cape Breton.  We'll listen here to the title track of Volume One, Mabou Coal Mines, a rather archetypal strathspey (sound clip).  Mark notes that the set of tunes in which this one is played contains classic tunes that celebrate the Mabou area where Johnny was raised.  Mark notes that visually, his playing looks like 'straight' bow' but that he controls the bow pressure so that the bow skips between different regimes of frictional resistance.  Kate Dunlay notes that such subtleties as Johnny uses often are overlooked by novices who focus on the more obvious decorative devices.

I hope my focusing on a few of the older gents on this set does not imply I don't care for the younger players.  Gregory Campbell and Rannie MacLellan, both born in 1951, play Sound Clipin fact sound 'older' in style and attack than some of their more senior fiddlers.  To give a little taste, listen to Gregory's rendition of The Athole Highlanders's Farewell to Loch Katrine (sound clip).  This, of course, is a rather well-known Scottish march, but it is one that has a cognate in the US south.  I find it very similar in many ways to the tune known as The Cuckoo's Nest to many American fiddlers, especially in the settings by Roscoe Parish, late of Coal Creek, Virginia, and by John Summers, late of Wabash, Indiana.

We'll finish off our discussion of this first volume by concentrating on a couple of very danceable tunes. play Sound Clip Johnny MacLeod is touted in the notes as have and endless number of jigs for square-set dancing.  The first figure in the Cape Breton square sets is to be danced to a jig.  So we hear Johnny fiddling The Rover's Return (sound clip).  That is the title of the second Volume - play Sound Cliplater we'll hear the rendition from that volume as played in fiddle duet by Willie Kennedy and Morgan MacQuarrie.  I also want you to hear Fr Angus take off, especially with his series of consecutive 'cuts' here on Col MacBain's Fancy (sound clip).

Cover picture Volume Two kicks off with Willie Kennedy, whom I've mentioned a few times earlier.  He was quite inspirational upon hearing him at the Fiddle Tunes festival.  He also has an entire CD to himself, as mentioned above.  He was born in 1925 and was a neighbor to Jack MacQuarrie, with whom he often played in fiddle duets.  Jack happens to be Morgan MacQuarrie's father and Morgan not only appears on this CD in the role of fiddler, but he is the co-producer of the current Cape Breton fiddle series on NATS.  Mark Wilson writes of Willie: Willie is one of those artists who never plays a piece the same way twice and the emotional tenor of his sets varies enormously from performance to performance.  The excerpt I'd like to have here is Sir Archibald Grant of Monemusk's, a warhorse in the tradition if ever there was one, but a melody that neither I, nor these great CBI fiddlers, tire of.  It is widely distributed throughout North America, even being in the repertory of many southern fiddlers.  play Sound ClipThe African-American fiddler Will Adam, recorded in Maryland in 1953 by Mike Seeger, even had a variant of it in his repertoire, called Money Murk.  Willie plays Monemusk as a reel in this medley (sound clip).  It is too bad there is not enough bandwidth to present the entire medley here (well, you could go out and buy the CD, for that is my recommendation if these sound clips and this essay intrigue you), for it contains such gems as the well-worn Irish session tune Pigeon on the Gate, though sounding fresh here; You and I, which is in the classic Scots 'A to G' tonal center shift format; Paddy on the Turnpike, which evokes a number of versions found throughout the US, though without the ornamentation found here; and The Sheepwife, a tune unknown to me, with an interesting melody and chordal shift.

Francis MacDonald, born in 1932, grew up with traditional violin music, but during his stretch in the Army was assigned for ten years to the Black Watch pipe unit.  play Sound ClipAfter mustering out, he returned full time to fiddling, though he retains a number of pipe tunes in his repertoire, which is not unusual for Cape Breton fiddlers.  It is mentioned that he is perparing a booklet, Margaree Melodies, for publication - it will contain his own compositions.  The selected tune Cheap Meal (sound clip) is found in the The Athole Collection (published in 1884), as are most of the tunes in this particular medley, though it can be traced back to Gow's 1817 publication and even back to the mid 18th century in Scotland.  Listening to the melody here, though, I can hear it being played in eastern Kentucky as I type this.  This will bear further investigation.

Willie Kennedy and Morgan MacQuarrie (born in 1946 and currently living near Detroit, Michigan) recreate the sound of Willie's early fiddle duets with Morgan's father.  Listen to their setting of The Rover's Return, the fine jig we heard Johnny MacLeod play, from Volume One.  There are many things to consider in this medley.  One is the fact that Willie is improvising the tune selection, so there is a momentary lull when he signals he is about to play a new tune, so one can almost picture Morgan and pianist Gordon MacLean leaning in to concentrate on the first strains of what Willie plays next to launch into that next piece.  Understanding this, now I can hear that pause, but they must be quite practiced, as it a quite smooth transition.  Another thing to consider is the stylistic differences between the fiddlers.  Mark points out that Willie's playing is 'flowing and highly decorated' while Morgan 'stresses rhythm and sharply punctuated upbows'.  Yet, their familiarity with each other's styles allows them to fit into each other's nooks and crannies so the fiddles work well together, even while creating a form of tension from their conflict.  John MacDougallMorgan says, of his 'old-style' aesthetic: I try to play chords all the way through because when you're double stringing a tune, I think it sounds better - it gives a 'Scotchier' sound to the music.  Almost as good as two fiddles.  If you're just onto the strings that you're supposed to be on, then it's not half as good.

John MacDougall, born in 1925, may be my favorite fiddler in this series to date.  The stately, yet informal, photo of him in the booklet shows that he holds the fiddle on his chest, the way it was done in the old days in the American south and how it was done frequently by older Cape Breton players.  I'd also surmise that a majority of classical players must have played that way in the years prior to the development of the chin-rest.  This 'under-the-chin business' is strictly a modern convention, if you ask me.  Though he is known as a prolific composer (a count of 28,850 original compositions as of the end of 2001!), we only hear him play traditional material and tunes from older composers here.  play Sound ClipHis entire first medley is interesting because of the variety of bowing variations he uses, including some staccato bowing one of Marshall's hornpipes near the start of the medley, Miss Wharton Duff's (sound clip).

play Sound ClipAllan MacDonald, born in 1920, only appears once on these two volumes, here in duet with Morgan MacQuarrie, sans piano.  We'll hear a clip of their interpretation of Monemusk in its original strathspey setting, so it can be compared to Willie Kennedy's reel setting, heard above.  I could stand to hear more of him.  Maybe he will appear again on a later volume.  The duet form heard here is quite nice, especially when they get to the concluding reel, where they play in octaves, which Mark says was common for fiddle duets at dances in the old days, especially with the parallel tuning available in high bass or AEAE tuning.

John Archie Gillis, born in 1921, has technique at his disposal that perhaps aligns most closely with southern US styles.  Mark notes that there seems to be a distinctive 'shuffle' in his bowing, a pattern characteristic to many styles of Appalachian fiddling.  Mark went on: play Sound ClipMorgan tells me that this was a pulse one sometimes heard in old-time playing and that it made for very effective square-set music (sound clip).  The entire set on the CD is quite vigorous, but I've selected a clip from, I think, West Margaree (I got a little lost in figuring the changes and what tune was up, here, as some A parts of various tunes were quite similar) to illustrate his fine dance fiddling.  I think I hear a couple of places where he lifts his bow from the strings slightly and then quickly strikes the string, down the fingerboard, with a rapping sound very reminiscent of the accents Surry County, North Carolina fiddler Tommy Jarrell used for effect.  However, when I went back to try and locate these for the sound clip, I could not easily find them.

Morgan MacQuarrie has a number of recordings out on his own label that I've been enjoying at home for the past year or so.  He was integral in the birth of this Cape Breton fiddling series and has located many of the old-style fiddlers heard here.  As I understand it, there will be more such players in the upcoming volumes, many of whom no longer live on CBI, like Morgan, who were forced to move to find work and be able to raise their families.  But like Morgan, they all retain their close ties with the Island where they were born and visit it often.  The Leg of a Duck, comes in the middle of a medley of jigs that feature chord changes - and interesting chord changes - do I detect a major-6th chord here?  Andrew Kuntz's website states that it originally was an Irish jig, but it's been thoroughly Scotch-guarded by now, having been recorded by several Islanders and appearing in a few written collections on the Island.

I'll end my discussion of these fiddlers, again joining John MacDougall, but beginning with Mark Wilson's description of how MacDougall physically appears:

Watching a musician like John MacDougall perform is strikingly reminiscent of some of the old-time players I met in the Kentucky Appalachians in the early 1970s.  Like those players, Johns holds his fiddle low on his chest, tilted towards the floor, while his bowing arm moves in great circles of rocking movement that beat out the primary rhythmic stresses of the piece, almost like a drum.  On top of this sharply articulated dance pulse, a very complicated pattern of rapid bow flicks and 'cuts' is superimposed.  Virtually every melody note is harmonized, whether through drones or double stops.  The end result, John tells us, is music designed to get a crowd dancing in a crowded hall without benefit of either accompaniment or amplification.  John doesn't play in cross tunings like AEAE, but he learned from men who did so on a regular basis ('we gave all that up,' he says, 'when they began to have amplifiers in the halls').  And every item on this list of distinguishing traits was formerly the norm in old Kentucky.
Concerning the medley from which our final sound selection is drawn, Mark wrote: play Sound ClipWithout becoming excessively fast, the medley develops a wild intensity that seems virtually unique to Cape Breton music and notes that this medley, except for the march, are 'old-style' favorites.  I especially enjoy the stridency of the strathspeys - Miss Lyall the clip we'll hear, is played both as a strathspey and as a reel.  He brings his bow down with quite a bit of force onto the strings - very percussive - along with his foot stomps; it is a powerful, primal sound, with a great urgency as he attacks vigorously with the bow.

Now, for all you ivory pounders out there, I didn't mean to ignore the piano accompanists (Gordon MacLean even gets a solo piano track on Volume 2), who are all outstanding.  The booklet constantly highlights them and holds them up as exemplars of old-style piano accompaniment, and to that I raise a mighty 'huzzah' of my own.  I've too frequently heard the other end of the scale.  These pianists were a pleasure for the ear.  So they do not remain anonymous, they are Marianne Jewell, Gordon MacLean, Corrine MacDonald, Sandra Gillis, and Kay Campbell White.

As with all anthologies within my experience, there are some problems that cannot be overcome.  It is impossible to represent each musician as fully as one might want or they deserve because of time constraints.  Another potential pitfall is the sequencing.  The programmes on these CDs manages a nice flow, most likely by considering the tunes and tune forms rather than trying to bunch tracks by a particular artist together for some form of cohesiveness.  Fortunately within this NATS series of Cape Breton music, there will be, and have been, full CDs dedicated to particular fiddlers.  All this during a great economic downturn.  I must commend the producers and the label, Rounder, for making these recordings available.  In the time I've had these disks, I've come to treasure the music found on them.  The playing continues to grow on me.  I am honored to be writing about it as well, and must note the serendipity of having the general release of these CDs occur on my very birthday.  There is something in the air.  There is so much more I am able to, and want, to write about them, but I will mercifully come to an end.  I have feeling of warmth and satiation akin to how I felt after several listenings to the Kentucky traditional fiddle set.  I trust that this feeling is coming across the Internet to you readers.  I can't say, "Go buy this", for I don't know your tastes, but there is a great vitality in these recordings that cannot be held down.  I strongly feel that word will get around and people will know, and those who seek these out will be rewarded.

Kerry Blech - 29.9.02

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