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WENDY MacISAAC "Timeline" WS031703

A very welcome second CD from this young Cape Breton fiddler, Timeline is long on quantity and quality. Wendy MacIsaac has lost some of her youthful impetuosity, and most of her penchant for rock'n'roll accompaniment, but there's still plenty of fire in her fiddling. The musician's dozen tracks here are full of first class tunes. There are compositions by young Cape Breton stars such as Dave MacIsaac, John Morris Rankin, Kinnon Beaton, and a handful of Wendy's own. There are classics by James Scott Skinner, William Marshall and Neil Gow, and several from modern geniuses including Jerry Holland and Gordon Duncan.

Most of this album is straight Cape Breton dance music, medleys of reels and strathspeys or jigs. Wendy has a fine driving style, with the rhythmic punch that's ideal for dancing, and she's ably assisted by many of Cape Breton's best musicians: guitarists Dave MacIsaac and Gordie Sampson, pianists Ryan MacNeill and Tracey Dares, and multi-instrumentalist Howie MacDonald among others. Wendy herself doubles on piano and banjo for one track each: the three banjo reels are a joy, starting with Jerry Holland's Just Cruisin', then The Flax In Bloom, and finally Geraldine's Reel which Wendy claims as her own although it's basically a variation on that old chestnut The Mason's Apron. There are a couple of cracking jig sets, including Wendy's catchy compositions Donald MacIsaac's Retirement and Steevo's Jig. The icing on the cake for me is the rumbustuous set of reels starting with The Rink (okay, it's actually a clog, but that's really just a slow reel) and ending with Gordon Duncan's masterpiece The High Drive given the best fiddle interpretation I've heard. The only criticism I have of Timeline is that the fiddle and backing are not always as tight as we've come to expect from modern studio recordings. Wendy occasionally lags behind slightly, or maybe the guys with the easier job are racing ahead, who knows? But this is rare, and only noticeable if you listen closely.

Between the jigs and the reels, Wendy has squeezed in some unexpected treats. The CD starts with a brief recording of her grandfather playing jaw harp and lilting at a ceilidh, before plunging into a storming set of strathspeys and reels. There's a little lilting step-dance cameo later on, from Wendy's mother Geraldine, leading into the gorgeous Gaelic song An t-Alltan Dubh sung by Mary Jane Lamond. The album finishes with half a minute of lilting from Wendy at the age of three, an endearing touch of humour to end a memorable recording. All in all, Timeline is an excellent CD that should endure as a fine example of the Cape Breton tradition.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.