Rounder Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/05/1999
There's very few people who could disagree that the two greatest young fiddle players currently recording are Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster, from the Cape Breton area of Newfoundland. Newfoundland itself is currently responsible for much of the current renaissance in Celtic music, with bands like Great Big Sea and Rawlins Cross, but there's something uniquely Breton about a single fiddler with the sound of dancing feet.
It's almost impossible to review any of these artists without taking into account their surroundings and fellow artists. MacIsaac and MacMaster grew up together, along with some of the Rankins (I expect to review the Rankin Family within the next week or two). All of them attended ceilis where artists like Buddy MacMaster, Dave MacIsaac, and John Allan Cameron played. It's all in the family on Cape Breton, and it's no wonder they're spawning CDs left and right. These folks are GOOD.
Natalie MacMaster is one of the best of the crew, a blonde angel who looks more cheerleader than fiddler. But she's fast becoming a master, a demon at live performing whose trademark is to close the show stepdancing while fiddling. It was on MacMaster's third CD, No Boundaries, that she began to build off her excellent training to widen her scope as a performer.
The niece of Cape Breton fiddling legend Buddy MacMaster, she began at a very young age by learning the traditional tunes, and those are done to a turn on this CD. Sets like the jig set "My Friend Buddy", the strathspey and reel sets "Paddy LeBlanc's Set" and "Where's Howie?", and the clog and reel "The Autograph" are all magnificent examples of traditional fiddling.
However, MacMaster sees no reason to stop there. This CD also includes the haunting, plaintive "Fiddle And Bow", with guest vocalist Bruce Guthro, a jazzed up version of an Italian polka in "Reel Beatrice", a techno-funk dance backbeat on "The Drunken Piper" with a guest vocal from Cookie Rankin, and the original reel "Catharsis", originally performed by Amy Cann, with its driving bass line and Hammond organ harmonies.
If you think this sounds like Ashley MacIsaac's CD that I previously reviewed, you're right; there are some similarities. Both are involved in pushing the envelope of Celtic music in general and Cape Breton music in particular. Do not assume, however, the two CDs are redundant. MacMaster feels very different, and it's more than just a different in strike and approach on the fiddle. MacIsaac is power, MacMaster is finesse; MacIsaac is Nolan Ryan, MacMaster is Tommy John. Either way, the batter will head for the dugout with a slightly stunned face.
No Boundaries is the best place to start appreciating Natalie MacMaster. (Her first American release, a compilation of her two Canadian releases Four On The Floor and Road To The Isle, is interesting but not outstanding.) Grab it, get it, dust off your clogs, and prove that step-dancing and fiddle is a universal language.