Review

My Roots are Showing

Natalie MacMaster
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. Many of these people have been discussed on the list here, fairly recently. 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 Among the gems are a previously unpublished hornpipe by Dan R. MacDonald called "A Salute to Angus Chisholm", a J.P. Cormier tune called "the E flat Reel" that's great fun, and it's followed by an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!)

The musicians adding their talents to Natalie's on this cd are: Joel Chiasson, Mary Jessie MacDonald, Howie MacDonald, and Tracey Dares on piano; Dave MacIsaac, Paul Mills, and Gordie Sampson on guitar; and Mathew Foulds on snare drum.

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, Nova Scotia."

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. Judith Rosen

Copyright 1997 Wil Macaulay

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