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JENNIFER ROLAND "Dedication" Magnetic Music MMRCD1023
FIDDLERS' BID "Hamnataing" Greentrax CDTRAX167

These are both debut CDs from young fiddlers, and bear all the hallmarks of first recordings. Fiddlers' Bid are a Shetland group of four fiddlers, a harpist and two guitarists, all relatively unknown outside Shetland but not for long. Their material is all instrumental and ranges from traditional reel sets to Chris Stout's beautiful slow air which provides the album title. Chris is one of the four fiddlers, and contributes five of his own tunes to this recording: four other band members also feature in the composer credits.

Having four fine fiddlers adds drive and bite to some of the dance sets, but Fiddlers' Bid are wise enough not to overdo the massed fiddles sound. There are fiddle solos and duets, and several pieces with no fiddle at all, including harpist Catriona McKay's impressive solo rendition of her own jig "The Lawsiders" and guitarist Steve Yarrington's atmospheric "Clovullin".

In keeping with the Shetland tradition, there is a heavy bias towards reels with some sets presented in a dance-band style. Other influences include Alasdair Fraser, Altan, Cape Breton and Irish traditional music. Everything here is in keeping with tradition, except perhaps the anti-bonus track. There's plenty of energy, plenty of good tunes, some very nice arrangements and enough rough edges to keep things interesting. On balance, this is a very promising debut and a very enjoyable CD with at least nine very good tracks out of twelve (53 mins).

Jennifer Roland's debut CD has just the one fiddle, but drive and bite are the meat and drink of the Cape Breton tradition and she is steeped in it up to her eyes. The fiddle-piano sound of Cape Breton dance music is perfectly exemplified on this recording, as is the traditional repertoire of reels, strathspeys and jigs. Most of the tunes here are traditional, with known composers including Scott Skinner, Dan R. MacDonald, Jerry Holland, Graham Townsend and Brenda Stubbert. There's also a nicely paced version of Gordon Duncan's reel "Andy Renwick's Ferret" and six of Jennifer's own reels and jigs which sit very well with the older tunes.

In fact, the whole album (ten tracks, forty-six mins) is nicely paced, and this is helped by two poignant slow airs composed by Jennifer's sister. Slow airs are a recent addition to the Cape Breton tradition - mainly in the last fifty years or so - and these two are fine contributions to the genre. Together with a couple of clog hornpipes and a Skinner march, they complete the tapestry of Cape Breton music.

There's another story to this CD, the story of a very sick little girl's dedication to traditional music, but that's not what comes across in this recording: the impression this album gives is rather of someone who has mastered her instrument and is completely in tune with her music.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 32 of The Living Tradition magazine.