The Cottars,
Made in Cape Breton
(self-produced, 2002)

This first release by the Cottars is tangible proof that the spirit of traditional Celtic music is still alive and well amongst today's youth. Not only that but the Cottars certainly have the makings of becoming a fantastic band. No, I should clarify that. The Cottars already are a fantastic band, sure to delight wide audiences with their enthusiasm and talent. Their potential is unlimited. Made in Cape Breton harnesses this energy, and the result is a wonderful album containing a great mix of songs and tunes, and guest appearances from well-known artist John McDermott.

The Cottars comprise two brother-sister duos from Cape Breton: Ciaran and Fiona MacGillivray hail from Marion Bridge, while Jimmy and Roseanne MacKenzie make their homes near Baddeck. The foursome plays a good variety of instruments, and plays them exceedingly well. Ciaran provides piano, tin whistle, bodhran, vocals and stepdancing. Fiona is the lead vocalist, and also plays tin whistle, bodhran and stepdancing. Jimmy plays guitar and bodhran, while Roseanne lends her talents on fiddle, harmony vocals and stepdancing.

The band performed separately as brother-sister duos until last year when they joined forces to form the Cottars. Since then, they have toured with John McDermott, appeared on television documentaries and specials on PBS (United States) and CBC (Canada), and are fast gaining the attention of Celtic music enthusiasts -- with good reason. This band shows a musical maturity beyond their tender years, and brings a youthful zest to their polished performance.

There are many aspects to this recording that stand out. The groupings of tunes and songs and the arrangements that go along with them are excellent. Most of the faster-paced songs on the album contain instrumental bits as well, adding to the overall effect, and a cappella sections are interspersed with a full complement of accompaniment.

Each of the young musicians in this band is extremely talented. Roseanne's fiddling is bright and cheerful; Ciaran's piano is full of energy and expression; Jimmy excels at percussive chording on the guitar, and plays bodhran both with good tone and varied rhythms; and Fiona's voice is simply breathtaking. The band manages to take these components and put them together in a cohesive mix that is very pleasing indeed.

The songs on the album vary in pace. Fiona's voice lends itself equally well to the haunting melodies of "The Briar and the Rose" and "Suilean Dubh," the toe-tapping "I Know Who is Sick" and two duets with John McDermott in "Scarlet Ribbons" and "Here's to Song" (which was written by the MacGillivrays' father, Allister). Fiona has excellent vocal control, perfect pitch and a clear, natural voice that's guaranteed to put goosebumps on your arms the first time you hear it. Brother Ciaran takes the vocal stage in "The Two Brothers Medley," sharing his sister's abilities for projection and control, and providing some excellent harmonies throughout the album. Roseanne joins the MacGillivrays on a few tracks, providing some lovely harmonies -- the tracks where all three sing are very well done.

The Cottars shine in the instrumental department, too. From accompaniment to songs to foot-tapping, jumping-out-of-your-seat-to-dance sets of tunes, the foursome play like they've been playing together for years. Roseanne's fiddle style is somewhat traditional, with the kind of expression that makes you lust for more tunes after every set. Each spritely note is played with clearness and precision. Many of the sets have some off-beat and off-tempo rhythms, which make them even more enjoyable. Piano, whistle, guitar -- all excellent. "Ciaran's Piano Medley" displays Ciaran's prowess at the instrument, and his playing is lively and expressive throughout. Ditto for Jimmy's guitar. Lots of harmonizing between instruments, too, which is always a bonus.

Well, I could go on and on about this one, but I won't. I think you get the picture -- get the CD! It is hard to believe that this band has only been playing together for a year or so, given the cohesion with which they play. Even harder to believe is their ages -- these talented young musicians were only 11, 12, 13 and 14 at the time of the recording. Chock full of zippy tunes, lovely a cappella singing, haunting melodies and hopping Cape Breton style, Made in Cape Breton is certainly worth checking out.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 29 June 2002

Meet the Cottars -- Ciaran and Fiona MacGillivray (13 and 12 years old) and Roseanne and Jimmy MacKenzie (14 and 11 years old) -- two sets of siblings from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The siblings only met a couple of years ago at a festival in Cape Breton where they were each performing as duets. They hit it off perfectly when introduced, and they each bring their own talents to the group and complement and enhance each other's singing and playing.

The band gets the name from a school project that Fiona MacGillivray was working on. During the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Scottish settlers were kicked out of their homes and sent overseas to Canada, in particular Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island. The people of Nova Scotia called the new arrivals "cots," possibly because either of the small cottages they lived in or the small beds they slept in.

Most kids this age these days are thinking about how they'll be spending their summer vacations. The Cottars, however, already know what they'll be doing -- touring and performing their style of Celtic music around the country, with dates already booked in Nova Scotia and the New England states, as well as appearing in their first CBC-TV Special Meet the Cottars. It's going to be a busy summer for these performers, but that's what these youth want to do. And audiences are loving every minute of their performance!

And to top it off, they've got Celtic singer John McDermott as one of their biggest fans. They've already performed in the New England area with McDermott and appeared on his PBS Special A Time to Remember. As well, he appears on and is the executive producer for the Cottars debut recording, Made in Cape Breton. This collection of 13 traditional and original songs and tunes captures the talent, youthfulness, spunk and energy of these performers.

The CD opens with Fiona's angelic voice on "Suilean Dubh," a song that her mother, Beverly MacGillivray, sang with Raylene Rankin in the 1970s and 1980s Cape Breton show The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton. For being only 11, Fiona has a very mature way about her. It's like she's been performing all her life, which is almost true. Her father, Allister MacGillivray, is one of Cape Breton's finest songwriters and singers. While growing up, musicians were always stopping by the MacGillivray house and the children were encouraged to participate in these gatherings.

Fiona's brother Ciaran shines on lead vocals on the "Two Brother's Medley" and his fine piano playing is showcased during "Ciaran's Piano Medley."

Roseanne and Jimmy MacKenzie are the other pair of siblings that make up the Cottars. Roseanne, 11, has been called one of Cape Breton's talented young fiddlers. Her energetic style of playing shines through on "The Captain Campbell Medley" and "The Pleasures of Home Medley." Jimmy plays guitar and bodhran during these numbers. You'll recognize a lot of the tunes being played, this time by the next generation of musicians from Cape Breton.

Fiona is the lead vocalist and she sends shivers down your spine on such songs as "Ballinderry" and "The Briar and the Rose." The latter tune has almost become a signature song for the band. Although Fiona is quite capable of standing out on her own, her voice also complements that of John McDermott on such songs as "Scarlet Ribbons" and "Here's To Song," the latter tune written by Ciaran and Fiona's father, Allister MacGillivray. The CD concludes with "Kitchen Racket" featuring some fine fiddling and stepdancing.

Following in the footsteps of such legendary Cape Breton groups the Rankins and the Barra MacNeils, the Cottars prove that the music is alive and strong in today's youth.

[ by Kimberley Marie ]
Rambles: 29 June 2002

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