Jerry Holland,
Fiddler's Choice
(Fiddlesticks, 1998;
Odyssey, 1999)

Jerry Holland may have been born in Boston, but he's a Cape Bretoner through and through.

Holland's fiddling, as demonstrated on Fiddler's Choice, is exciting stuff. Wielding his bow with boundless energy and asserting incredible dexterity on the fingerboard, he fills each exuberant track with solid musicianship stocked with an amazing array of ornamental techniques. This album is a benchmark other fiddlers should aspire to.

Most of the tracks pair Holland with excellent pianists (Allan Dewar and Mary Jessie Gillis) and guitarists (Gordie Sampson, David MacIsaac and J.P. Cormier. Holland also provides piano on one track, and Kieran O'Hare joins him for two on the uilleann pipes.

It's astonishing how many of the tunes collected here are Holland originals. In all, 30 tunes out of 52 (in 15 tracks) are his own, and several others are from Cape Breton contemporaries Paul Cranford and Brenda Stubbert -- and there's not a throwaway tune in the bunch. Holland isn't just keeping traditions alive with new arrangements of old material; he's helping to refresh the tradition by infusing it with new classics.

What fiddler couldn't be inspired to new heights after hearing the "Wake Up Cape Breton Medley" or "Everyone's Fancy"? Much of the album is quick-paced; only "Boo Baby's Lullaby" and "For My Mother Dear," two exquisite waltzes penned by Holland for his daughter and mother, slow down the tempo.

Fiddler's Choice is a needed addition to any fiddle fanatic's collection. I know my copy will be playing on repeat mode for quite some time.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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