Joe Peter MacLean,
Back of Boisdale
(Rounder, 2005)

News of the death of Joe Peter MacLean came as a blow.

It's not as if Joe Peter was widely known outside of his native Cape Breton. Certainly he was neither the flashiest nor most polished fiddler to spring from the island's rich music tradition.

But Joe Peter, a former farmer and native Gaelic speaker, was just always there. Whether at a Boisdale dance or squeezed in a corner of the green room at the Festival Club at the Celtic Colours International Festival in St. Ann's, Joe Peter could be found with a fiddle tucked under his chin, sawing through music like it was his life's blood.

In a way, it was. Joe Peter, who didn't pick up a fiddle until he was 18, had an amazing repertoire of tunes in his head. Call out a title and he could play it. Begin a tune and he either knew it right off, or he'd tilt his head and listen for a minute, then begin playing right along.

Back of Boisdale is his only CD and, sure, it's not the flashiest or most polished you'll find. Released by Rounder Records, in the label's North American Traditions series, the disc is pure Joe Peter -- a lengthy selection of tunes played by a guy who loved to play them.

The CD features 17 tracks -- some 60-plus tunes -- that just run through the music as if Joe Peter was sitting in on a session or providing the music for a dance. He wasn't even sure of every title -- some selections are simply called "Traditional Pipe Tune," "Traditional Reel" or "Medley of Gaelic Songs."

But they're a joy to hear because they were a joy to play. He's joined here by Paul Wukitsch on second violin, Janet Cameron on piano and Gordon MacLean on piano and parlor organ.

Joe Peter MacLean died Jan. 11, 2013, a few months shy of his 68th birthday. I'd last seen him just three months before, and he'd been playing music as vigorously then as he'd been doing for all of the 12 years I'd known him. I'm going to miss seeing him around in Cape Breton when I'm there, but I'm glad to know I have this album to remember his music -- as fresh now as it was the day he played it.

music review by
Tom Knapp

23 February 2013

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