Natalie MacMaster,
Cape Breton Girl
(independent, 2011)

You never forget your first.

My first was Natalie MacMaster in 1995. Up to that point, I was a huge fan of Irish and Scottish fiddle music, but Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, wasn't even a blip on my radar. Then I had a chance to interview MacMaster, and I listened to her music for the first time.

Suddenly, Cape Breton was the biggest place in the world, and Natalie MacMaster was its shining heart.

Since then, there have been others -- from Wendy MacIsaac and Kimberley Fraser to Rachel Davis and Chrissy Crowley -- but Natalie was my first exposure to this rare, stunningly beautiful form of music, closely related but not identical to other Celtic forms. In her early days, she performed mostly in a standard Cape Breton trio -- fiddle, piano, guitar -- but as her musical boundaries expanded, she added other elements for a fuller, sometimes pop-inflected sound.

It worked, but in my heart Cape Breton would always be typified best by the trio. And that's the sound that dominates Cape Breton Girl, a CD released in 2011 (and somehow, overlooked by me 'til now) that takes MacMaster back to her roots. Working with a variety of musicians, MacMaster stands firmly in the spotlight and works fiddle magic. Sure, there are some extras -- like occasional touches of whistle, flute and bagpipes, for instance, and a Gaelic version of The Lord's Prayer, sung by Jeff MacDonald -- but by and large it's that old, straight-up CB sound.

It's a welcome reunion for fans of MacMaster's music. It's also a great stepping-on point for folks who've somehow missed hearing her over the years. But for me, after nearly 20 years with this talented fiddler, she looks and sounds as fresh and as exciting as she did that very first time....

music review by
Tom Knapp

4 October 2014

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