Natalie MacMaster,
My Roots Are Showing
(MacMaster Music, 1998)

Before setting off in the new direction which began with the album No Boundaries and has strengthened its focus with her recent personnel changes and additions to her traveling band, Natalie MacMaster paused to pay homage to the roots of the Cape Breton fiddle tradition. The result, My Roots Are Showing, is an excellent collection of traditional fiddle tunes played by Natalie at her finest.

The album cover says it best: Natalie sitting dreamy-eyed with her fiddle in the foreground, a hazy tree behind her peopled with musical ancestors stretching from her great-grandparents to her father and uncle, fiddle legend Buddy MacMaster.

But the success of a recording is judged on the tunes, not the cover art, and Natalie delivers with her usual finesse. Her fiddle playing is exceptionally crisp, and she has arranged most of the tunes with the Cape Breton standard of fiddle, piano and guitar.

The album begins with variations of the Scottish march, "Johnny Cope," followed by a collection of four reels played in Natalie's trademark overdrive. "Willie Fraser," an assortment of two strathspeys and four reels, and "The Boys of the Lake," a set of three jigs, follow in rapid succession.

This album doesn't rest much. "The Wildcat," a lively set preceded by Natalie's "mreow," flows straight into "Balmoral Highlanders," comprising a pipe march, three strathspeys and six reels. Grab a breath during the slow air, "The Shakin's o' the Pocky," because the rest is over when "Captain Keeler" takes over for three hornpipes and two reels. "E Flat Set" is an even faster set of three hornpipes, followed by four strathspeys and three reels in "Glad You Made It, Howie!" "Close to the Floor" is a trio of jigs. (They're fast, if you didn't guess.) "Queen of the West" combines three hornpipes and two reels before Natalie takes her second and final breather, the slow, gorgeous air "A' Chuthag (The Cuckoo)."

The album closes with a live recording of "A Glencoe Dance Set." This set includes "The Castle Hornpipe," "Sean Maguire's Reel," "Scotsville Reel," "Timor the Tartar," "Tom Rae" and "Sandy MacIntyre's Trip to Boston," which Natalie claims in her liner notes "may very well be the most popular Cape Breton fiddle tune of all time." This set certainly whet my appetite for a live MacMaster recording, which I hope Natalie puts on her "things to do" list soon. A special treat in the live track is the inclusion of Natalie's famous uncle, Buddy, who duels fiddles with his niece.

Natalie uses a skillful group of musicians throughout the album. Playing piano are long-time MacMaster collaborator Tracey Dares, new touring companion Joel Chiasson, Mary Jessie MacDonald and Howie MacDonald. Guitars are played primarily by Dave MacIsaac, a MacMaster mainstay up until her most recent tour, plus Paul Mills and Gordie Sampson. Matthew Foulds adds snare drum on two tracks as well.

My Roots Are Showing is an excellent addition to the Natalie MacMaster discography, and it makes me even more eager to hear her next offering, due out in the summer or fall of 1999.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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