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NATALIE MacMASTER - "Fit As A Fiddle" - Greentrax CDTRAX141
At long last recordings of Cape Breton fiddle player, Natalie MacMaster will be redly available this side of the Atlantic. Ian Green of Greentrax Recordings has been successful in his negotiations and has released on licence Natalie MacMaster's four albums and a fiddle tutor video.

Hornpipes, reels, strathspeys, jigs, clogs and marches are the mainstays of this style of Cape Breton playing. That and stepdancing. So while the rythims are tolerably constant, the tempo generaly moves up to a higher gear as the set progresses. All this is ably demonstrated on "A Compilation" which is a selection of tracks from Natalie MacMaster's first recording, "Four on the Floor", from 1989, and her second, "Road to the Isles", from 1991 and there is much to enjoy among these lively sets of tunes. On most of these tracks the accoumpianists are Dave MacIsaac on guitar and on piano either Betty Lou Beaton or John Morris Rankin.

Bright, spirited playing with a light handed measured atack is very much the Natalie MacMaster style. The flowing curled blond hair and the stepdancing are some of the other trademarks. "Fit as a Fiddle", recorded in 1993 has the sound of the stepping on some tracks, the blond hair and the dancing you'll have to arrange to see for yourself. Dave MacIsaac joins in once more on guitar but this time round the piano honours are shaired between Howie MacDonald and Tracy Dares. There is a more assured and confident air about the playing, even to the extent of endulging in long and extra long sets of five or six or even eight tunes. The addition of bass, electric guitar and some percussion adds extra pep to the strathspeys and reels which is balanced out by the graceful arrangements of the slow airs, Seamus Connolly's "I'll Always Remember You" and Maurice Lennon's "If Ever You Were Mine".

Of recent years lots more has been heard from Canadan musicians who's roots are based in Scots and Irish music traditions". Richard Wood, Ashley MacIssac, The Rankin Family and Mary Jane Lammond have all made their free ranging musical pressences felt. Natalie MacMaster's new recording is entitled "No Boundaries" and includes some similarly contemporary themes. Cookie Rankin adds some gaelic to an adventurous "studio built" track, "The Drunken Piper", which is followed by some more progressive work, a version of Amy Cann's reel "Catharsis". To an old luddite like myself however both these tracks sound a little overcooked. As does the eleven pice string "orcestra" version of Scot Skinners' slow air "Silverwells". Many of the other sets return to the less encoumberd instrumentation of fiddle, guitar and piano from Natalie, Dave MasIsaac and Tracy Dares. This allows the trio to rip through many others ideas of boundaries when playing jigs, strathspeys or reels. "Where's Howie", "Bill Crawford's Set", "Paddy LeBlanc's Set" and "My Friend Buddy" are all glouriously vigorous tracks.

Natalie MacMaster is certainly developing musical opportunities with, "No Boundaries", and why not. Listening through her earlier recordings will show that she is no stranger to crossing barriers or doing things her own way.

Peter Fairbairn

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.