Wendy MacIsaac,
That's What You Get
(self-produced, 1996; Klub, 2000)

Natalie MacMaster's departure from purely traditional music is an exciting foray for fans eager to see how she pushes the envelope of Celtic-style fiddling. But she leaves big shoes to fill for people still hungry for more of the traditional Cape Breton fiddling, which has helped bring the Canadian maritimes into rivalry with Ireland and Scotland for the excellence of their roots musicians.

Wendy MacIsaac may just fit the bill for filling those shoes.

Cousin to Ashley MacIsaac, who is already renowned as a fast-fingered, hard-stomping, very nontraditional fiddler, Wendy has achieved some fame touring with Cape Breton singer Mary Jane Lamond. She has performed with the likes of the Chieftains, the Rankin Family, the Barra MacNeils and Capercaillie. Now, her solo album, That's What You Get, provides us with a delightful taste of her homeland's distinctive sound. If there's justice in music, it will help Wendy to achieve the kind of international attention that has made Natalie MacMaster a star.

Wendy draws on the talents of musicians like guitarists Dave MacIsaac and Gordie Sampson and cousin Ashley on piano to fill out her sound, but it's clear throughout that That's What You Get is a fiddle album and Wendy is the main attraction. Even the foot percussion of several set dancers (including her parents, Donald and Geraldine) can't yank the spotlight away from her fleet and nimble fingers.

Most of the album's 12 tracks have been arranged by Wendy, who combined from three to nine traditional tunes into each set. "Lady Madalina," for instance, is actually "Lady Madalina Sinclair's Birthday/Miss Anne MacNamara/Yester House/Herman the Carpenter/The Craig of Barns Reel/Scottsville Reel." "A Dandy Group by Willie" (arranged by fiddler Willie Kennedy, who joins her on this and one other track) consists of "Mr. Thom/The Braes of Tullymet/The Marquis of Huntly/Lord Kelly/Sir Archibald Grant of Money Musk/Pigeon on the Gate/You and I/The Strand/A Dan J. Campbell Reel." The brief "Jigs in G and D" comprises "The Boys of the Town/The Jumpy Jig/The Man in the Moon/Pat's Parlour." And so on.

All in all, it's a lively sampling of the Scots-Irish and Cape Breton fiddle pieces which continue to thrive and grow in worldwide popularity. Wendy's arrangements as well as her performances of them are sweet and clear, a welcome addition to the expanding clan of fiddlers on the market.

I was pleased to be listening to Natalie MacMaster back before she made it big. Now, everyone with a passing knowledge of Celtic fiddling knows who she is. It may well be Wendy's turn next, so do yourself a favor and catch this train early. Introduce yourself to her music now.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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