Ashley's Allusions: Annotations to fineR thank you very much

Kate Dunlay (

I finally sat down and tried to list all the possible musical references to other Cape Breton violinists and pianists that David Greenberg and I noticed on Ashley MacIsaac's fineR thank you very much. Some of it seems pretty clear. However, the fact that some things were definitely goin' on may have led me to imagine certain other things. Then again, there's probably a lot that I missed! - Kate Dunlay

I. There's some Buddy MacMaster here at the beginning but I don't have any proof other than my ears. I could have sworn Buddy recorded "The Rosebud of Allenvale" but when I went looking for it, it wasn't anywhere. Maybe it's just the general influence. BTW the tune labelled "Traditional Reel" is really "Rod Alexander's Reel" by Fr. Angus Morris.

II The piano intro in E-major is interesting, since the fiddle proceeeds to play in C-major instead; is there an inside joke? The jigs and first strathspey sound a bit Buddy-influenced. Then some Chisholm stuff going on during the strathspeys and reels? C is a good key for Chisholm music anyway.... We have a tape of Margaret Chisholm playing "Culloden Well" with a few similar bowings. Also, Ashley plays four-note cuts in "Lady Loudon," which seems to be a Chisholm trait. Angus Chisholm recorded "The Bonnie Lass of Fisherow" and "Bird's Nest" together and they can be heard on his Shanachie LP. "Argyle Bowling Green" has also been a reel favoured by the Chisholm family.

III "Moonlight Clog" and "Hennessey's Hornpipe" were recorded by Angus Chisholm in the mid-1930s. They are also on his Shanachie LP. There the piano accompaniment is somewhat simple during the clog; Ashley's is spare, but adds more substance. In the clog it is evident that Ashley must have been inspired by the elastic timing and creative glissandos of Angus' playing.

IV The acoustic goes closer for this track, adding to the illusion that this is suddenly a John Campbell recording we are listening to. "Traditional Strathspey" is on John's Rounder album (there it is titled "Strathspey in D"). Next, "New Haven Reel" on John Campbell's sixth album became "New Bedford Reel" on Ashley's CD. Ashley's fiddling on this cut capture's a lot of John's sound, with the variety in his bowing, use of wild-notes and lots of tasty left-hand ornaments. Ashley also plays the piano in a style similar to John's sister Margaret (although toward the beginning of the strathspey some of the piano runs are reminiscent of Doug MacPhee, who accompanied on John's Rounder album).

V Hardly coincidentally, "Wilfred's Fiddle" and "The Harborview Jig" are the next track (after the above mentioned strathspey) on John Campbell's Rounder album too. You'll hear a heavy foot in both Ashley's and John's recording!

VI Don't know about any influences here but this track with John Allan Cameron is awesome. I like the conversation before it (quiet of course -- it draws your attention because you want to figure out what they're saying!).

VII There must be a reason why the (very) electric piano diddles at the beginning of this track.... Very powerful setting of "The Braes of Tullymet." A fast, biting version of "Tullochgorum." That and "The East Neuk of Fife" are impressive -- both long variation tunes, played in the same medley. Apparently Angus Chisholm and/or Arthur Muise sometimes play/ed them back-to-back, and Angus also would put "Tullymet" in his medley.

VIII These are common tunes but Ashley uses the same intro and same order as Buddy MacMaster on his Judique on the Floor recording (1989). Ashley's rendition has a bit more of a raw edge to it though -- a slightly wilder sound, especially on "The King's Reel" -- perhaps there is another fiddler's influence there? John Morris Rankin's input shows up here too (on the piano). Listen for the suspended chords during the second-to-last part of "King George V"/" Old King George Strathspey" in both recordings. Ashley uses a lot of nice bass runs and syncopated rhythms during the strathspeys, not unlike the John Morris sound.

IX "Tam Bain's Lum" and "The Ladies Hornpipe" were recorded by Theresa and Marie MacLellan on separate tracks on their Rounder album (1979). Ashley's recording even has the same echoey acoustic that characterized that LP. Ashley uses Theresa's sweet tone and drones, and Marie's solid piano rhythms and bass (even including tiny airspaces in the same place as on the original).

X "Space Available March, Buddy MacMaster Strathspey, Joys of Mabou Mines Reel, '38 Ford Reel, and Passion Flower Hornpipe" are lifted right from The Beatons of Mabou album on Rounder (recorded in 1977). That's why Ashley has it double-tracked; one fiddle is Donald Angus, and the other is Kinnon. There may even be two piano tracks on Ashley's recording to represent both Joey and Elizabeth; if not, the piano playing is very full and your imagination can make it two pianos. Joey's glissando is there the second time through the last tune.

XI The reel sounds like Dave MacIsaac to me (and maybe the preceeding jig as well); it's got MacIsaac warbling tone along with drawn-out left-hand ornaments (both of which Dave's father used too). Besides Dave recorded it on UCCBP 1007, Celtic Music of Cape Breton, the one that has Donald MacLellan and Dan Joe MacInnis on it as well. Dave's recordings are very clean and controlled though -- only Dave at a dance might do the (one) bow-crashing re-entry that Ashley lets go (it's expressive though and I like it!). The recording of Dave has a ringing quality to it and a somewhat far-away acoustic; Ashley's follows suit.

XII Radically different sound here -- very immediate/close. At first we thought this might "be" Donald MacLellan because he adds a lot of similar twisty ornaments and bowings to his music, but Ashley's Dad said Willy Kennedy was represented on the recording and when we heard Willy play The Princess Royal at a session in July we knew for sure that this cut "is" Willy. Also, Ashley's sound on this track is a bit more "Mabou" than Donald (fitting because Willy lives in Mabou).

XIII Sounds a bit like Buddy again with those strong push-bows that give the music such a danceable drive. The electric piano diddles at the beginning, while the fiddle starts, add to the dance atmosphere.

Copyright 1998 Kate Dunlay

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