Catriona MacDonald,
(Compass, 2000)

Catriona MacDonald was an exciting part of the Blazin' Fiddles when I saw them perform at Celtic Colours 2000. (As the sole female in the high-energy band, is it any wonder she stood out?) But, while it's one thing to shine in a crowd, it's not as easy to shine alone in the spotlight.

No worries so far as this Shetland fiddler is concerned. Her first solo album, Bold, is extraordinary.

Bold features a mix of Shetland traditional tunes, original pieces by MacDonald and a few other unfamiliar tunes. She has a colorful, passionate mastery of the music, from the fast-paced "Shetland Fiddle Diva/Purfy" and the melancholy "Michael's Mazurka" to the intense "Eilidh's Trip to Germany/The Monday Morning Reel/Land ta Lea" and the hard-to-describe "The Lost Ponytail/Dennis' Tune." Perhaps the most unusual moment comes in track 10 -- "Da Silver Bow/The Joy of It!" -- which melds MacDonald's sweeping fiddle with Iver Kleive's church organ. It's an odd combination, to say the least, which is perhaps why I've spent so much time playing and replaying it. The set climaxes in a lofty inspirational finish, placing a nice cap on the album.

Besides her solo work and her time spent with Blazin' Fiddles, MacDonald is active in a trio with bassist Conrad Ivitsky (also a member of Shooglenifty) and pianist David Milligan. She previously toured with accordion player Ian Lowthian, who contributed several tunes to this album, and participated in String Sisters with Liz Carroll, Liz Knowles, Annbjorg Lien, Natalie MacMaster and Mairead ni Mhaonaigh (of Altan fame).

Joining MacDonald on Bold are musicians Milligan, Ivitsky, Lowthian, Kleive, James Mackintosh and Tony McManus. Although nice supplements to fill out the sound, they never steal the spotlight from her fiddle. Nor should they -- this is a fiddle worth hearing.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 21 July 2001

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