Jamie MacInnis
& Paul MacNeil,
Fosgail an Dorus
(Gigs & Reels, 1992)

The sound of footsteps on gravel, a knock at the door, the door swings open and the sound of pipe music comes wafting out. These are the opening sounds of Fosgail an Dorus (Open the Door), a collection of bagpipe music as played Cape Breton-style, complete with the unquestionably Cape Breton-style piano accompaniment on many of the tracks.

Jamie MacInnis and Paul MacNeil, two excellent pipers, team up on their Highland pipes to give the listener a taste of Cape Breton. True to that regional style, the recording frequently features the melody predominantly, with very little drone sound from the pipes audible. The pipes I heard playing with other instruments in Cape Breton stopped off their drones to reduce or completely stop the drone sound, allowing the chanter to sing through loud and clear. It takes a little getting used to, but it can be quite a nice sound, especially when paired with a rhythmic piano, guitar, or bouzouki.

Other musicians on the recording include David MacIsaac (guitars, bass, dobro), John Ferguson (bouzouki) and the Barra MacNeils: Sheumas MacNeil (piano, synthesizer), Kyle McNeil (fiddle, viola) and Lucy MacNeil (bodhran). There is also a chorus of Gaelic singers used on one of the tracks. These musicians team up to play crisp, dotted rhythms that beautifully fit the Cape Breton love of step-dancing. The influence of the step-dancing tradition can be heard on almost every track on the recording. And if you've ever seen step-dancing performed, you'll be seeing the steps in your head as you listen to the music.

The recording opens with a lively traditional set, "The Feet Washing/The Irishmen's Heart to the Ladies/The Price of the Pig." The second track starts with a dramatic slow strathspey composed by Jamie MacInnis for Paul MacNeil. This striking strathspey is first played on solo guitar, which gives the track a distinctive feel. The pipes join in later, rounding out the set with more traditional tunes: "Lady Carmichael of Castle Craig/A'Chuachag/The Reel of Bervie/The Black Hair'd Lad."

The great sets continue, largely composed of traditional tunes, with a few new ones thrown in for variety. The accompaniment is generally Cape Breton piano or guitar. A distinctive track is the "Cape Breton Set" consisting of a march, two strathspeys and three reels all written by fiddlers from Cape Breton. There is also a set of three reels, each composed by one of the members of the band in honor of a family member. "Miss Eireann MacInnis" was written by Dave MacIsaac for his daughter, "John Johnny Mick's" was written by Jamie MacInnis in honor of his uncle and adopted father, and Paul MacNeil wrote the final tune, "Roddy C.'s," for his father.

The one song on the recording is "Gun Oran Binn, No Canain Grinn," is by Paul MacNeil and his father, who both sing on the track. The song discusses the longing of a man to hear his native tongue, the language of his youth, which has disappeared. The recording closes with the "Electric Set," another pair of pipe tunes ("Lexy MacAskill/Roddy MacDonald's Fancy") with electric instruments added to rock up the fun.

My only complaint with the recording is the lack of variety in the tune types. Sure there are marches, reels, strathspeys and jigs. These are almost all dance tunes, and certainly all upbeat, except for the one song. They all carry that step-dancing feel to them, and with the pipes as the major focus, with only a few brief hiatuses for short guitar or piano solos, there is never a break from the basic pipe with percussive backing sound. This could have easily been alleviated with the additional of a full piano or guitar solo, or even with a pipe air, just to break the pattern.

Despite this complaint, there is no question that this is a quality recording. The music is strong and well-played, and the arrangements are distinctively Cape Breton in style. This recording truly opens the door to Cape Breton piping music for the uninitiated. And it will serve as a fun and provocative pipe collection for those that are already familiar with the Cape Breton style.

[ by Jo Morrison ]