Howie MacDonald,
The Dance Last Night
(self-produced, 1997)

Howie MacDonald is a one-man variety show. He proves it in The Dance Last Night, a CD which recreates a Cape Breton ceilidh complete with colorful local characters. However, besides the "live audience" credited in the liner notes, the entire dance band and crowd is MacDonald himself. He's listed as playing the fiddle, 6-string, 12-string and electric guitars, mandolin, harmonica, synthesizer, piano and percussion. He also provides a variety of character voices, from curmudgeonly patrons to energetic callers -- there's even a riot at one point, when someone suggests an ill-conceived "last call," and a peevish spouse.

There's a lot of great stuff packed into more than 71 minutes of playing time. And MacDonald's performance is high-caliber no matter which instrument he's on -- it's hard to believe an ensemble this tight comprises just one man. (Extra kudos to his recording engineer, Mike Wadden, and Spectrum Studio in Cape Breton. This must have been a bear to assemble ... as the CD's "hidden" track confirms!)

For dancers, this is an amazing collection which will keep your feet stomping through the night, slowing down only occasionally to give them a rest (or to snuggle close to a dancing partner). But even couch-bound ceilidh fans will enjoy the energetic performance as well as the "you are there" dancehall ambience. Check this one out for a slice of Cape Breton life!

[ by Tom Knapp ]