Joseph & J.P. Cormier,
Velvet Arm, Golden Hand
(Patio, 2002)

Just one look at these names should send you scrambling for this CD. Long-time fiddler Joe Cormier, from Waltham, Mass., via the Cheticamp area, is one of the early recording artists from Inverness County, Cape Breton Island. Though Cape Breton's music is often viewed as traditional Scottish, it is played by many people of differing or blended ancestry who call the little island their home.

The Cormiers are of Acadian heritage and J.P. is Joe's nephew. I once overheard these words, "If it has strings on it, J.P. can play it." And would play it extremely well to boot, I am sure. He is without doubt one of the most versatile musicians on the island. J.P. left home at a young age and worked around the Nashville scene, but has returned to his Inverness County home where he quickly became an integral part of the musical wave that washes over this island.

Joe Cormier was heartily welcomed back to Cape Breton, to J.P.'s studio, to record this traditional album. Besides the ones done in the studio, two tracks are taken from live sessions and are so, so good. The air is electric as bows spark across fiddle strings. One selection of wedding reels is going to make you wonder how the bride and groom would have had any energy left at the end of the night if they stayed for the dancing, and with music such as this, they would have.

The arrangement of tracks indicates the mutual respect and admiration the fiddlers have for each other and follows a form of fiddler's etiquette. The sets are well put together and Hilda Chaisson-Cormier, wife of J.P., lends her dancing fingers for piano accompaniment. Gervais Cormier and Gelas Larade add a lot of guitar energy for the "Live Sessions" tracks. I believe the whole CD from start to finish will be a lasting example of Cape Breton music with its cultural cross-overs and building blocks of family ties.

Together, these guys have given their all to the haunting melodies and driving sets that include tunes like Skinner's "Sir William Wallace" and Dan R's "The Red Shoes." Many more great tune selections are found on this CD. If you want to plunk yourself down right in the midst of Inverness County, in memory or in spirit, just get this CD spinning and in an instant you'll be there.

Many Cape Breton musicians are known for their generous spirit of giving and the Cormiers aren't any different. The proceeds of Velvet Arm, Golden Hand go towards a program that builds patio gardens at hospitals for cancer patients, something Joe has given much of his time to already. The Mary Eagan Garden at Waltham Hospital, Mass., is one example. You just can't go wrong putting this CD on your shelf.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 1 March 2003