Jerry Holland,
Crystal Clear
(self-produced, 2000)

Crystal Clear, the newest release from Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland, is definitely a fiddler's album. With no accompaniment, and the simplest of recording methods, Holland provides us with 20 tracks of crisp, clean fiddling. Fiddlers and serious enthusiasts will appreciate this recording as it offers a somewhat rare chance to hear the subtle intricacies involved in the playing of an accomplished musician. Embellishments and arrangements, two very important aspects of fiddle music -- at which Holland excels -- often lose their power when other instruments become involved. In Crystal Clear, Holland removes all other distractions, and provides the listener with masterful fiddling, pure and simple.

Born in Boston, Mass., Holland has been living in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for the past 25 years, and already has to his credit eight solo albums and countless collaborations and guest appearances. Also an accomplished composer, many of the tunes on his albums are originals and can be found in his two collections of tunes.

The casual listener to this album -- the guy who goes to the odd square dance and likes to hear a good band which might include a fiddle or two -- might find himself only able to listen to a few tracks at a time. Fiddlers, however, and people who have developed a serious interest in fiddle music will see this recording for the masterpiece it is. With natural acoustics, no noise reduction or other fancy add-ons, and only the deep, rich tone of Holland's fiddle, the listener is treated to over 70 minutes of some of the world's most expressive, energetic fiddling.

The tunes on the album come from the diverse musical traditions of Scotland, Ireland and North America, and are played in Holland's unique Cape Breton style. Holland shines in his ability to adapt tunes to his own distinctive style, while keeping the original essence of the tune intact. This ability would be admirable enough on its own, but is even more astounding, when you consider that (according to Paul MacDonald, one of the album's producers) the album was recorded mostly in one sitting.

When you listen to the album all at once, the mood often changes markedly from set to set. From Irish hornpipes to traditional jigs, modern compositions, airs and marches, strathspeys and reels, Jerry Holland plays them all, and plays them with impeccable style. The sets are well-grouped and fit together seamlessly. Holland has a knack for combining new compositions with age-old classics, and constructing workable sets from a variety of different composers' works.

It isn't just the sound of the naked fiddle that gives Crystal Clear its name. Nor is it the beautiful tone of that solo fiddle. No ... I would say that the name is most aptly characterized by the fiddling of Jerry Holland. His playing is so ... solid. Precise. Seldom do you hear any of the scratching which all too often characterizes my own fiddling. Just well-toned, resonant notes. This is true even as the tunes speed up. Some of the most energetic sets on the album -- tracks 6, 9, 13, 14 and 19 are a few good examples -- still ring with incredible clarity. Every note is crisp, audible and right in tune. And this isn't to say that it's boring -- far from it, in fact. All of the subtleties of Holland's style and embellishments make for an energetic and provoking listen.

With such a clear recording, and the ample references to publications where the tunes can be found, fiddlers can't help but be excited about this album. What a perfect opportunity to learn some new tunes! Pure, masterful fiddling spiced with raw energy and clarity is what you'll find here. So, if a fiddling fix is what you need, Crystal Clear should do the trick.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]

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