Jennifer Roland,
(self-produced, 1997)

This first album from Jennifer Roland is definitely a keeper. Although it has been a few years since its release, it easily made its way into my stack of favorite fiddle albums. It has everything I look for in a good fiddle recording -- variety, expression, good tunes and (most importantly) danceability. The album is dedicated to all of the people who have supported Roland over the years, and it is certainly a wonderful tribute to these individuals.

Roland, hailing from Prince Mines, Cape Breton, is a remarkable young fiddler and stepdancer. She is joined on this recording by her sister Karen Steele (piano), as well as Ryan MacNeil (piano, synthesizer), Al Bennett (guitar, bass, tubular bells) and Matthew Foulds (drums, percussion), each of whom are well-respected musicians themselves.

There is not a lot I need to say about this album -- if traditional Cape Breton fiddle with oodles of energy and a somewhat contemporary flair strikes your fancy, then go out and get it! There was not a single set of tunes on the recording that I could find fault with. Roland has a great habit of starting off a set with minimal accompaniment, then building, adding and changing instrumentation as the set progresses. Each and every set leaves me thinking "Wow -- great set!"

This recording is particularly well-arranged, as well. It mixes fast-paced sets of tunes with slower airs and waltzes, and it succeeds at grabbing and holding the listener's attention. Not only are the sets well-mixed, but there is also a good deal of variety when it comes to the tunes themselves. Traditional tunes are played alongside newer compositions in Roland's clear, energetic and expressive style. The final three tracks on the album are a fine example: a wonderful toe-tapping set of traditional tunes with piano accompaniment is followed by a set of Roland and Bennett's compositions, both sets played with equal zest. The final track is a set of reels written by Bennett and Roland, beginning with solo fiddle, then joined by piano, drums, guitar and bass by the second reel and working up to a fever pitch. The instrumentation for this set is slightly more contemporary, but keeps the essence of traditional Cape Breton-style fiddle. Together, the three sets reflect the evolution of traditional music, leaving no doubt as to why it is still so popular today.

Dedication, as a complete package, is outstanding. Not only is the music excellent, but the liner notes themselves make a great commentary on Roland. They are filled with family photos and words of appreciation for the people in her life. Roland has many wonderful things to say about her family and friends, and it is refreshing to see a young musician with such a level-headed view of her musical accomplishments. It seems as though Roland has put her whole heart and soul into this album, and this fact enhances fiddling which was already superb to begin with. Great stuff!

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 12 January 2002