Glen & Keith MacNeil
and Russell Deveaux
at the Red Shoe Pub, Mabou,
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
(19 July 2001)

Back in March, I interviewed Glen MacNeil, a singer-songwriter from Cape Breton, now living in Windsor, Ontario. Since chatting with Glen, I had been looking for a chance to hear him perform. One of his songs, "Cape Breton's Crying," appears on well-known Cape Breton musician Cyril MacPhee's new CD, and it immediately became one of my favorites. So, when I heard that Glen would be playing at Mabou's Red Shoe Pub along with his brother Keith and co-writer Russell Deveaux, I decided to make a trip to the other side of the island to hear them.

Well, notwithstanding the fact that I had to be at work a mere three hours after the crowd finally dispersed, this is a group that I would definitely see again. The crowd -- myself included -- was gripped by their performance from start to finish. Not only does these guys know how to play what people want to hear, but they provided a well-polished performance filled with variety and enough energy to power a small nuclear plant! And considering how often the trio plays together (maybe twice a year), this is remarkable in itself. If I hadn't known better, I'd swear that they perform together every night of the week!

Mabou, a small village on the west coast of Cape Breton Island, is teeming with musical talent -- such greats as the Rankin family, Buddy MacMaster, Glenn Graham and Natalie MacMaster come from the small towns which dot the coast -- and it wouldn't be unheard of to find one of them playing at the Red Shoe on any given night. The pub itself is pleasing in its simplicity. Rather rustic looking with wood decor, the small stage rests along one wall, and the open concept ensures that performers can be heard wherever one chooses to wander. The pub seems to be simply made for music, and really comes alive during a performance.

In fact, "alive" is an excellent word to describe Glen, Keith and Russell's performance at the Red Shoe. Thankfully, I arrived early at the pub for Thursday's traditional wing night. By 8 p.m., the place was absolutely jam-packed with eager fans, although the show didn't start until 9. Among the crowd were many locals, happy that Glen was home for a visit, and clamouring to hear him play. I also encountered guests from Newfoundland, Ontario and New York, and as far away as Scotland and Australia.

I would have thought that such a diverse audience would be tough to please, but in the capable hands of this band, such was not the case at all. They immediately picked up on the fact that most everyone's goal was to have some fun, which is exactly what they made the night.

The trio, consisting of Glen MacNeil (lead vocals, guitar), Keith MacNeil (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Russell Deveaux (guitar), belted out three good length sets of songs. To begin with, I was quite impressed by the sheer variety that they had to offer. For the most part, they played east coast favorites, such as "Sonny's Dream," "Out on the Mira" and "Farewell to Nova Scotia," which were appreciated and well received by the crowd. They also played a bunch of traditional Irish pub tunes, putting their own energetic spin on things, most notably in the upbeat version of "Danny Boy." A couple of well-played Great Big Sea covers sent the audience into a frenzy, and they rounded out their selections with some rock songs. Basically, they played something for everyone!

Glen's strong, clear vocals were well-matched with Keith's harmonies and the complementary mix of finger-picking, chording and rhythms on the guitars made for a very strong and cohesive overall sound. Keith really shone on guitar, often finger-picking the melodies and playing with typical Cape Breton style expression. Glen has a fantastic voice, well-suited to the material, and ably adjusting to different genres of music. Russell and Glen have a clear talent for songwriting as well, as evidenced in the original songs the band performed. "Cape Breton's Crying" will appeal to anyone who has fallen in love with the island, and the upbeat "Celtic Pride" and "Eastbound Train" with their catchy tunes were both adored by the folks in Red Shoe.

One of the highlights of the night was the band's playing of Jimmy Rankin's new release "Followed Her Around." This is the first single from Rankin's long-awaited debut solo album, Song Dog, which had just been released two days previous. The fact that Jimmy Rankin hails from Mabou no doubt inspired the frenetic reaction from the crowd -- no fewer than three notes into the song, the locals went wild with delight! Glen's vocals certainly did justice to the song, and once again, if I hadn't known better, I'd have thought they'd been playing it for years!

When it finally came time for the performance to end, you could feel the electricity in the room from the crowd. With a standing ovation and cries of "more," the MacNeils and Deveaux returned the stage for an encore that lasted upwards of a half an hour. Eventually, the lights were dimmed, things wound down and the giddy crowd reluctantly headed for home. As with many others in the audience that night, I know I'll certainly be looking forward to the next time these talented musicians manage to get together for a gig!

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 1 September 2001