various artists,
Rosin the Bow: East Coast Fiddles
(Tidemark, 1998)

There's been a lot of hullabaloo recently about fiddlers from the Atlantic shore of Canada. Why all the fuss? Well, here's one way to find out.

Rosin the Bow is a sampler of fiddle masters from Cape Breton Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island -- all isolated coastal regions which were steeped in Scottish and Irish fiddle traditions and developed their own unique variants over the years since colonial times. After one listen to this collection, you'll know why these fiddlers are setting new trends in Celtic circles! Some I already knew and counted among my favorites -- Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, the Barra MacNeils -- while others, such as Wendy MacIsaac and Richard Wood, were more recent discoveries. But many were fiddlers I'd never heard before and look forward to hearing again.

The album contains 17 tracks, each by a different Canadian artist or band, so there's plenty of variety. Tunes range from Christina Smith's sprightly, vaguely baroque rendition of "The Banks of Newfoundland" to the lullaby-like "Starlight Waltz" played liltingly by Kendra MacGillivray. Glen Graham and Rodney MacDonald play "Traditionally Rockin'" with a touch of southern twang, Rufus Guinchard sounds vaguely hurried on "Four Tune Turn," and Emile Benoit positively gallops through "La Reel de la Pistroli/Arriving to St. John's." The Barra MacNeils provide a string choir for "High Bass Tunes," and Kelly Russell & the Planks close out the album with a frenetic rock jam called "Suzanna Perry."

All 17 performances are universally passionate and may lead to dancing ... or, if you're like me, compulsive CD shopping. Consider yourself warned.

[ by Tom Knapp ]