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WINNIE CHAFE "Legacy" Own Label - WCL1996
JOHN PAUL CORMIER "Return to the Cape" Main Tripp MTRJPC95

These two recordings have a great deal in common. They are both of Cape Breton fiddle music, they both feature a family duo of fiddler and pianist, and they are both well worth a listen. They also differ in important respects: Winnie Chafe's album is very much based on the traditional Scottish repertoire and adds variety by using several guest musicians, whereas J.P. Cormier's CD is a two-person recording with material from a wide range of traditions.

Winnie Chafe is a mature Cape Breton fiddler who plays in the energetic Cape Breton style with plenty of rhythm. She is accompanied on piano by her daughter Pat, who also contributes several new compositions to the album. Other credited composers include two Gows and a Skinner, as well as a few Cape Breton tunesmiths. There's quite a bit of woodwind and string accompaniment, especially on the slower tracks.

Most of this album bowls along quite cheerfully, but there are one or two problems with the slower tracks. The set of two beautiful old Scottish laments is taken rather too fast, and the set of three rather hackneyed Gaelic airs is played far too slowly for European tastes. On other slow tracks, the flute and viola da gamba (old cello) can give rather a classical feel to arrangement. There's also a version of "MacPherson's Rant" with a voice-over in a fine Canadian accent. On the plus side, there are half a dozen excellent tracks of dance music and a lovely version of the popular Cape Breton waltz "My Lilly". The fiddling is tight and controlled throughout, and there is some fine accompaniment especially from the piano. No fireworks, just good old-fashioned traditional music.

John Paul Cormier comes from a slightly different generation, and happens to have married one of the finest Cape Breton pianists in Hilda Chiasson. Both these musicians have a fine traditional pedigree, and they play Scottish, Irish, American, Canadian and even German music. J.P. plays mainly fiddle, with the occasional sally on mandolin/guitar/banjo. Hilda is firmly on piano, and gives us a virtuoso solo on her own tune "Holland Wedding". As well as the traditional tunes, there's a reel by Jerry Holland and seven tunes from J.P. There's plenty of variety, plenty of brilliant playing, and a few nice touches such as the spontaneous vocalisations and the burst of Bach. The final track is a particularly fine example of the Cape Breton style.

Only one duff track here, and again it's a slow one: track five starts with the very well-known Irish air "Fanny Power" which has appeared in several Canadian albums recently, and the tears are wrung out of it here in a rather too sentimental fashion. North American taste obviously differs from mine. The rendition of "The Moving Cloud" which ends the track almost makes up for the slow air: it's fiery and inventive without going over the top, and the piano does excellent work in the background.

"Legacy" tips the scales at just over 50 minutes: "Return to the Cape" is a little lighter at 39 minutes. The latter has been re-released on Iona recently and should be easy to find, but the former could be quite elusive. Happy hunting!

Alex Monaghan

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