Cyril MacPhee,
Back on Track
(self-produced, 2001)

Cape Breton singer-songwriter Cyril MacPhee has outdone himself with this recording. Jam-packed with striking melodies and harmonies, brilliant instrumentals and a good batch of original songs, this album will delight a wide audience. Generally classed as folk, MacPhee's music could easily find support from country or even pop music audiences as well.

MacPhee treats the listener to his rich, tenor vocals as well as playing guitar. As well as adding his own flavour to the work of some accomplished songwriters, three of the songs on the album are his own. MacPhee is joined in the studio by Gervais Cormier on bass, Jamie Foulds with backing vocals, guitars, drum programming and bass, Matt Foulds on drums and Kimberly Fraser, a young Cape Breton fiddler, adds her talents to the album's final track.

I have nothing but praise for this album. Each and every song is filled with the same good characteristics -- MacPhee's expressive tenor, great harmonies, well-blended and interesting instrumentals, insightful lyrics and the kind of catchy melodies I can't help but sing along to. It's even hard to pick a favorite song from this album -- it could be any one of them, depending on my mood at the time. Indeed, each time I listen, I find some other reason to like it!

The majority of songs are at a sort of medium pace. Not sleepy-slow, but not really hopping, either -- which seems to suit MacPhee's style just perfectly. "Thanks to You, Thanks to Me" -- one of the tracks on my favorites list -- is the lead-off track, and immediately grabs the listener's attention and appreciation with its striking rhythms on guitar, memorable tune and lovely vocal harmonies. In fact, I quite enjoy the guitar throughout the album. Rather than simply strumming along in the background, both MacPhee and Jamie Foulds (as well as Cormier on bass) have a knack for varying the sound. Melodies, background, rhythm and harmonies are all played skillfully, making already catchy tunes even more outstanding.

A few of the songs -- "Picture on the Wall" with its strong bass beat, and "Civil Conversation" and "Home Again" with the nimble picking on guitar -- have a more "countryesque" feel to them, although they wouldn't be out of place in other genres. "Cape Breton's Crying" (another favorite) is a lovely ballad that will be appreciated by anyone who has ever fallen in love with the island and had to leave it. With the gentle strains of guitar for backup, MacPhee's voice is highlighted in this one, and he does justice to the poignant lyrics. My only complaint would have to be that it isn't really in my vocal range, so I have to resign myself to croaking out some harmonies when listening in my car.

"Nova Scotia to Me" echoes my sentiments about the lovely province I now call home and stands out from the other tracks on the album by introducing a fiddle to the mix. Fraser is a lovely player, and the instrument adds a pleasant tone to the song.

From the first guitar strains to the last note, I love this album, and if I'm not careful, I'll soon wear it out with the amount of play time it gets in the car. Cyril MacPhee provides an enjoyable, down-to-earth mix of songs that are enhanced by rich vocals and superb instrumentals. I, for one, will be eagerly anticipating his next release.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 10 August 2001