Brenda Stubbert,
House Sessions
(Cranford Publications, 1998)

Once fiddlers such as Natalie MacMaster drew the world's attention to tiny Cape Breton Island, a chunk of Nova Scotia off Canada's eastern coast, we discovered something that the natives have known all along: the place is packed with incredible fiddlers who've both preserved the Scottish traditions which immigrated with the region's settlers and added their own distinct, regional flair.

An excellent example of the craft is House Sessions, featuring Brenda Stubbert on fiddle, Paul MacDonald on guitar and Joey Beaton on piano. The trio has the music down to a science, rollicking through 13 tracks with undiminished enthusiasm. (That's 55 individual tunes strung together in sets. Many of them are Stubbert's own compositions, and 37 are available for the learning in her fine tunebook, Brenda Stubbert's Collection of Fiddle Tunes, released by Cranford Publications in 1994.)

This isn't an attempt to blend musical styles or come up with something exciting and new in Celtic music. Rather, Stubbert is helping to keep a fine old tradition alive -- not just through rote regurgitation of time-honored tunes, but through new compositions in the traditional styles as well. And she does a fine job of it; for the most part, the album is a flawless slice of Cape Breton musicality. I won't say she has the precision and passion of MacMaster, or the power and flash of Ashley MacIsaac, but it's a fine display nonetheless. Budding young fiddlers could do worse than to emulate her performance.

That's not to say it's perfect, either. Although it livens up towards the end, Stubbert's "Fiddling After One Hundred" set drags on forever with a tune that, apparently, calls for slow, screeching dissonance. I'm sorry, but it sounds like a second-year fiddle student trying desperately to play a faster reel who can't get up to speed and isn't quite comfortable yet with finger placement. Stubbert is usually much better than that, as she proves on the majority of this disc.

OK, it's easy to fast-forward over a single bad track. Overall, House Sessions is a good album for fans of Cape Breton's wonderful fiddle tradition.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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