Donald MacLellan,
The Dusky Meadow
(Rounder, 2003)

I heard this Cape Breton fiddler a few times live in Cape Breton over the past few years, each time in the village of Glendale, but with Donald MacLellan's home base as Toronto, it wasn't very often that I had the pleasure.

Donald was a true old-time player of the finest quality and came from a Cape Breton musical family of note, the MacLellans of Riverside. It saddens me to say "was," since Donald, in his early 80s, passed away since this CD was released. His two sisters, Marie and Theresa, are the remaining two-thirds of the respected MacLellan Trio and, I'm sure, have much beautiful music to share with us yet.

On this CD, however, Donald plays solo and is accompanied by one of my very favorite piano players, Doug MacPhee. These two fellows know the music inside out, and they play as natural as breathing; so natural, yet so eloquent.

The music is elemental, but don't let that fool you, it's not simple. The music has to be mastered and perfected, to reach the level of these two players. And they each have a generous background of music lore to draw upon.

You won't find any techno-jazzle here, just the bare bones of Cape Breton music: fiddler and accompanist. You won't find the blast of music that gets your feet moving, your body lifting and your neck sweating in a square set. You will find music that sets you swaying in your chair, your toes or knees rising softly in rhythm, your breathing matching the timing with sounds of the "old language" humming in your head.

I did think the CD was off to a slow start. When the first cuts played, I thought, "OK, nice." But each one just got better and better. The tunes chosen and the style of playing certainly don't reflect Donald's age at the time of recording. It's really impressive that this was done in 2002. The strength and character of his music certainly belies the weakness of our human form, which always wears out; good music never does, and there's lots of it on this CD.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 23 August 2003

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