Howie MacDonald,
Live ... and Lively
(Atlantica, 1991)

Take a musician out of the studio, and how does he perform? If he's Howie MacDonald, he's studio perfect.

There are no tricks or gimmicks on MacDonald's Live ... and Lively, no special voices or comic routines. It's just pure, unadulterated fiddling by a master of the craft.

MacDonald displays straightforward showmanship, beginning with a trio of invigorating jig and reel sets which would leave a lesser fiddler with a pile of kindling and strands of split horsehair. Although he slows the pace at times (most notably for a lovely arrangement of "Rosin the Bow"), he never loses that level of high energy.

There is lively, percussive piano matching MacDonald through most tracks, plus a few appearances by guitar, bass, percussion and drum. We're not told at any point, however, who the other musicians are, nor where or when these live tracks were recorded.

Which leads to my only complaint: the liner notes. There are none. Not only is there nothing on the inside, but the track list on the back of the traycard is so densely packed with text it's almost impossible to read the titles. The CD might as well be shoved in a clear sleeve -- but, OK, I don't choose CDs on the basis of liner notes. Bottom line, the music is what counts, and MacDonald delivers a treat.

[ by Tom Knapp ]