Ashley MacIsaac,
A Cape Breton Christmas
(self-produced, 1993)

Welcome to Ashley's house at Christmas. Ashley's A Cape Breton Christmas, is a platter full of music that you'd expect to hear at almost any Christmas Party in Cape Breton (yes, that's "party" with a capital P) over the coming holidays. Though produced in 1993, I was pleased to see it on the shelf again and grabbed one up very quickly.

At the beginning of the CD, when Jeff MacDonald's voice welcomes you in from the cold, you can imagine yourself wrapped deeply in a winter coat, collar pulled high, slipping out of the bite of the frigid Atlantic wind and gratefully into the warmth of the kitchen. Drop your coat on the cot and settle in a while. The kitchen is always the first stop; often where the best bottles are kept, and the food magically keeps appearing. Ashley starts you off with "Devil in the Kitchen" and sets a fine mood. You might not think that appropriate, but without a little "devil" in all of us, what would be the sense in celebrating the coming of a Saviour? A little touch of the ironic Highland philosophy is often present in Ashley's work; often not planned, just inherent in Scottish artisty whatever the genre.

Nonetheless, we are celebrating Christmas, and Ashley and Scott MacMillan (the finest of the fine) play a very spiritual and uplifting "Go Tell It On The Mountain," followed by "Away in the Manger." Ashley and Scott have added special flavours to this CD (just like kahula and nutmeg in eggnog) with "Il Est Ne" sung in French by Aurelie Cormier and "Ciuin an Oidhach (Silent Night)" sung in Gaelic by Jeff MacDonald.

Then there's the classic "Fiddle Medley," chock full of strathespey's and reels, that keep the spirit of past Cape Breton Christmases alive. Next is a lovely "Children's Medley," played clear and bright to excite thoughts of Christmas Eve in the young ones' hearts.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is just a treat and the words roll through your head as you absorb the so-smooth melody flowing from violin and guitar. Guitar and fiddle extend tidings of comfort and joy to all who visited this house tonight, and it's probably time for the merry gentlemen and women to go to rest.

But if you've stayed at the party for a few days, you might as well stay for a few days longer and be there for New Year's. The last cut is Ashley on piano doing a fine rendition of "Auld Lang Syne," which is also the air for the school song at his alma mater, Judique-Creignish High, lyrics written by Barabara MacKay of Glendale. He follows that up with a few shorts, traditional reels and a strathspey -- just a little transition period as the holidays come to a close.

That's my reading of this CD. The music played on it is No. 1; it lives up to its title, A Cape Breton Christmas; and it was done in the finest Cape Breton tradition, without fuss or holler. The project came together in two weeks with the very professional help of Scott MacMillan and Jennifer Brickenden. And did I mention that Jim Farady added percussion and Alan MacKenzie played his pipes? If you can't be in Cape Breton for Christmas, pick this up and you'll enjoy at least a taste of the Christmas cheer that's going around down here.

[ by Virginia MacIsaac ]
Rambles: 8 December 2001