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VARIOUS ARTISTS "Tir Mo Ghraidh" B&R Heritage Enterprises BRCD 0003

Cape Breton is currently the hottest place on the Celtic music scene. The dynamic Cape Breton sound seems to be everywhere, and Scotland in particular has embraced it with the open arms of a mother welcoming a prodigal son.

The sound rapidly becoming associated with Cape Breton is exuberant fiddle playing in direct combat with vibrant piano creating an explosive joyful sound, e.g. Natalie MacMaster and Tracy Dares, The Rankin Family. This CD highlights that there is more to Cape Breton Music than sparkling fiddling and fiery piano playing.

Piping,singing and storytelling feature along with the fiddle on this CD. Barry Shears tops and tails the CD with two piping sets packed with strathspeys and reels played in the distinctive rhythmic style that characterises Cape Breton music.

Margo Carruthers' delightful voice provides the female vocal contribution with two tracks, "Duthaich Nan Croabh" and "'An T-oighr Og", the first with gentle support from Ryan MacNeil on piano. For a classically trained singer she has adapted to the "Gaelic style" remarkably well.

A very unusual feature of the CD is the inclusion of "Waulking" songs (known as Milling songs in Cape Breton) sung by men. Apparently while "waulking" was almost entirely a female activity in Scotland, in Canada the men got a look in - something to do with the cold winters not allowing outside work! Kenneth Morrison and Neil MacPhee take the respective leads.

Lewis Mackinnon keeps the men at the forefront with two tracks, and his strong evocative voice harks back to a previous generation of male gaelic singers.

While it is relatively easy for non gaelic speakers to appreciate gaelic song that is not so true of a story told in gaelic. Therefore some people may need to give Rosemary McCormacks tale of the piping duel between a father and son, a miss.

Naturally the fiddles do get a look in, with Winnie Chafe and Buddy MacMaster doing the honours. They have all the aplomb you would expect, and as with all Cape Breton music the pianist should not go unmentioned, so take a bow Patricia Chafe MacKinnon (Winnie's daughter) and Mary Elizabeth MacMaster (Buddy's daughter).

This is an interesting CD which those wishing to explore the depth of Cape Breton music would do well to seek out.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 16 of The Living Tradition magazine.