Buddy MacMaster in Concert
(SeaBright, 2000)

"I hope I'll live up to my reputation." That's how Buddy MacMaster prefaced a performance at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and that's how Buddy's new 90-minute concert video begins. Never fear, his reputation is secure.

For those unfamiliar with Buddy MacMaster's work, he is widely considered to be the long-standing master of the Cape Breton fiddle. That excellence, previously available to the masses through just a handful of recordings (and, for the very fortunate, his live performances) can now see the master at work in a variety of venues and settings. Besides the Savoy, Buddy is seen performing at a Christmas concert in a Glencoe church, in a set at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, at a square dance in the Christmas Island fire hall, in the studio while recording his most recent CD, The Judique Flyer, and at a CD release party in Judique. Also providing a backdrop for his music are some gorgeous scenes from Cape Breton's coast and countryside, something between a travelogue and a video postcard.

But most of the clips are from the Savoy, where Buddy -- teamed with pianist Joey Beaton -- plays a series of tune sets, including a few from The Judique Flyer. Refined and dignified in appearance, dressed to the nines in a suit and tie, his facial expressions seem mostly bland, almost disinterested, even as his highly polished black shoes stomp out the time to each tune. There, he holds court over an enthusiastic audience and, for one set, is joined by a quartet of Cape Breton stepdancers.

He also joins with other performers in the video, including guitarists Dave MacIsaac and Scott MacMillan (wearing one of the ugliest jackets I've ever seen) and pianists Tracey Dares and Kathleen Beaton (Buddy's sister). The best moments include fiddle duets with his famous niece, Natalie MacMaster, at a Nova Scotia Kitchen Party performance and with Irish legend Sean McGuire at the Fiddlers Heaven concert during Celtic Colours 2000.

The biggest flaw of the video is the lack of a printed track list. Buddy announces the names of a few tunes as he goes, and a complete list scrolls quickly by during the final credits, but that makes it difficult to places tunes with titles. Titles should always be easily accessible in any audio or video recording.

Buddy MacMaster is not the liveliest or most charismatic speaker in the world, but the shy, almost severe personality he projects ceases to matter once he puts fiddle to chin and bow hair to strings. The sound of Buddy's clear, sweet style makes you wonder how many years it's been since he hit an incorrect note. It's exciting just to sit and watch him play, to watch his passive demeanour as his fingers flit effortlessly over the notes.

He is, truly, a master of his craft, and we're fortunate to have some of his work preserved on video.

[ by Tom Knapp ]