Bill Lamey,
Full Circle
(Rounder, 2000)

Bill Lamey, a fiddler from Sydney, Cape Breton, emigrated to Boston in 1953 and spent the next 30 years helping to draw the world's attention to his region's particular style of Celtic fiddling. Now, Rounder Records has released a collection of his early "house session" recordings.

The quality is by no means up to today's standards. The instruments have a washed-out sound and the tunes aren't 100 percent note-perfect. There are many awkward fade-ins and fade-outs. Does any of that matter? In this case, no.

If you want bright, flawless recordings of Cape Breton fiddling, there are plenty of CDs on the market. Full Circle, subtitled "From Cape Breton to Boston and Back: Classic House Sessions of Traditional Cape Breton Music 1956-1977," is a slice of history. Without Lamey's skill and drive, Cape Breton music would have been less likely to spread beyond that tiny island to the rest of the world. And his skill is quite apparent, despite the roughness of these recordings; Lamey could easily match fiddles with many of his modern counterparts.

As I listened to this recording, its faults retreated into a back corner of my mind so I could focus on the wonder of Lamey's technique. It's no wonder the next generation of Cape Breton fiddlers claims Lamey as an inspiration.

The liner notes are thick and very complete, including biographical information on Lamey, a brief history of Cape Breton music and the resurgence of interest in it, memories of Lamey's house sessions from people who were there and, most interesting to me, reactions to these recordings from some of today's best and brightest Cape Breton musicians, including Natalie MacMaster, Dave MacIsaac and Jerry Holland (who reversed Lamey's course, emigrating from Boston to Cape Breton), as well as other musicians such as Alasdair Fraser and Altan's Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh. There is also an analysis of Lamey's playing style, brief bios on the musicians accompanying him on these recordings and comprehensive notes on the tunes.

All in all, it's a great package for anyone with an interest in Cape Breton music. It's very easy to overlook the failings of the primitive recordings and get lost in the feeling of the moment -- an important musical tradition being kept alive and spreading through the enthusiasm and dedication of one of its early masters.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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