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NATALIE MacMASTER - "My Roots are Showing"
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX163

Great album. One of Nova Scotia's finest fiddlers playing the tunes she was reared on, in a style very similar to her Uncle Buddy's. A solid hour of classic Scots fiddle tunes, and a few other things, played with the energy and rhythm of Cape Breton dance music. But what makes this album great? Let's have a listen to three tracks, and find out.

First, the opener: the march or hornpipe "Johnny Cope" and four reels including one or two Irish tunes. This 6-part version of "Johnny Cope" is based on a 1940s recording, but is as fresh today as it was two generations ago: it demonstrates the rhythmic, staccato bowing style of Cape Breton, and the melodic leaps of the Scottish tradition. The change into the reels is smooth and stylish, and the bowing changes to a more fluid Pan-Celtic style with some sparkling fingerwork on the other hand. There are still plenty of distinctive Cape Breton touches, especially on the last tune, and the whole set is counterpointed by deft guitar and piano accompaniment. This is a real showcase track, as is the "Captain Keeler" set in the middle of the album: not a dull moment in all five and a half minutes.

Just before "Captain Keeler" we get the first of two slower tracks. This one is a Scott Skinner strathspey, "The Shakins o' the Pocky", a favourite of Buddy MacMaster. Here it's given a very simple, soulful treatment with discreet ornamentation and a muted guitar backing. The grace and beauty of this track stem from Natalie's feeling for the music and her complete mastery of her instrument: this is not just the Cape Breton sound, it's Natalie MacMaster's sound.

On our third track she lets herself go a bit! Six reels of Scots and Cape Breton origin make up this live dance set from Natalie's home town. "Live and lively", as Howie MacDonald once said. The solo fiddle rises above the obligatory guitar and piano: all the Cape Breton energy and drive is in that fiddle, and there's humour, joy and bags of life in the music too, plus some cracking traditional tunes of course.

That's the combination that makes this a great album.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 28 of The Living Tradition magazine.