Bonnie Rideout,
Kindred Spirits
(Maggie's Music, 1996)

There are quite a few albums on the market commemorating Celtic music and women. Usually, that means if you play the music, you'll hear women singing the tunes. But that's not the way Bonnie Rideout decided to do it (although, admittedly, she is a woman) on Kindred Spirits. Instead, the Maryland-based fiddler chose a playlist of tunes which were mostly written by men who were inspired by women.

Neat concept, eh?

Although it's true to say the album features Bonnie's fiddle throughout, it's also true that she didn't put herself on a pedastal during its recording. Bonnie has gathered a talented crew of musicians for this album and she uses them heavily throughout. Eric Rigler, for instance, takes the spotlight for a portion of the "Mrs. Gunn's Strathspey/Sweet Molly/The Wise Maid" set, meshing his uilleann pipes nicely with Rideout's fiddle and Chris Caswell's pennywhistle.

The next set, "Miss Gordon of Park/Craigellachie Lasses/The Honourable Mrs. Drummond of Perth's Delight," features Rideout playing over a nice backdrop of cittern and guitar, both played handily by Robin Bullock. "Thogail a' Bhuntat (To lift the potatoes)/Do Chrochadh Thoill Thu (You deserve to be hanged)/Ugi Nan Hu 'Smo Thriall Dachaidh/Air No. 41" starts of slowly and somberly, then picks up with the lively addition of bodhran (Caswell) and cello (Abby Newton) and, lastly, a return of the uilleann pipes (Rigler).

Rideout accompanies herself on the mournful, despairing tune "Highland Mary," playing melody on the viola and adding layers of fiddle for a fuller sound. She then continues the somber mood on "O' a' the Airts/My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose," bringing the cello back and adding Caswell for some lovely accompaniment on the wire-strung Celtic harp.

"Miss Elspeth Campbell," a popular march for bagpipers, is reinvented as a sprightly fiddle tune, then Rigler brings in the Highland pipes and Caswell provides the martial drums ... all in all, a very nice balance of instruments and probably my favorite track on the album. Bullock launches "Mrs. Stewart's Strathspey/My Wife's a Drunkard/Miss Susan Cooper/Annie Shand Scott" with some deft finger-picking on the guitar before Rideout comes in. The set builds slowly, growing livelier as each instrument -- bodhran, uilleann pipes, whistle and cello -- joins the fray.

The final track, "Kindred Spirits," is a Rideout original. This lengthy fiddle solo (11:33) is an elegant composition written "as a eulogy to Scots women who have passed on the legacy of honest hard work and pride in their own traditions," and it serves very well to cap off an outstanding album.

With 12 sets in all, Kindred Spirits is a solid album with a strong presentation. While billed as a "Scottish fiddle" album, there's a whole lot more going on here than just the fiddle. And, while Rideout's playing is excellent, the mix of instruments she's created makes the package all the more pleasurable to hear. The only flaw -- and, admittedly, this speaks more to my own personal preferences than any weakness in the album itself -- is the preponderance of slow tunes to fast. Next time, Bonnie, give us more of the rollicking jig sets!

(And a personal aside: It was nice to see Rideout credit Jim Fegley for the care of her instrument, since Fegley is the same knowledgeable craftsman who recently sold me my own new fiddle!)

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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