Christina Smith
& Jean Hewson,
August Gale
(Borealis, 2006)

"We believe strongly in preserving the dance music of Newfoundland and in making traditional songs and tunes accessible to Newfoundlanders and folk music lovers everywhere."

So reads the quote in the press materials for Christina Smith and Jean Hewson's CD, August Gale. It is a stirring, delightful set of traditional songs collected throughout Newfoundland and laced with toe-tapping fiddle tunes. I love this music. I love its simplicity and power to make me cry.

Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster, two of Canada's finest Maritime fiddlers, have done much to pave the way to mainstream acceptance. But we forget how rich this Maritime musical heritage really is.

As I listened to this CD, I was struck by the titles of the fiddle tunes -- "The Meech Lake Breakdown," "The Snow Shoveller's Waltz," "Mrs. Belle's Close-In Reel" -- and wondered how these tunes were composed. It is relatively easy to draw pictures that tell a story with words, but how does one convey the images without using language? "Sinus Infection," a guitar tune written while Jean was suffering from a terrible illness, has a steady beat, beat, beat, much like the pain one would suffer. It really made me think about traditional music forms and how effective they were at telling the news of the day. And how expressive a fiddle could be.

"August Gale," the title track, is a tale of a 1927 fishing disaster that killed 40 fishermen. These stories are not uncommon, but the songs still have the power to move us to tears. Hewson's clear pure singing voice lends itself perfectly to this type of ballad singing.

"The Privateer," another traditional song about love lost, features the beautiful singing voice of Greg Walsh, definitely a voice to watch for. "Le Bon Vin" is a lively tune about my favorite subject: wine, wonderful wine. "Good wine puts me to sleep but love wakes me up again."

My favorite song is a stunning ballad by Ron Hynes called "Atlantic Blue." It was written in memory of those who died when the oilrig Ocean Ranger went down in 1982. It is heartfelt and emotional conveying perfectly the effect loss at sea can have. "What color is a heartache from love lost at sea?"

The oral traditions of our coastal provinces seem destined to perish. What with MP3s and digital everything, we can easily forget the beauty of a kitchen party where stories passed down from generation to generation are shared and new stories are composed in the old manner to reflect this generation's history. Let's hope these stories will be passed to the upcoming generations.

If Smith and Hewson have anything to say about it, they will. You can check them out at

by Jane Eamon
6 May 2006

[ visit the artist's website ]