April Verch,
(Rounder, 2001)

Good cheer and optimism must be ingrained in the very wood of April's fiddle.

Or, perhaps, the buoyant smile April wears on the cover and in every picture in the liner notes has permeated the very core of the CD within.

Whatever the cause, 22-year-old April Verch's CD Verchuosity is a peppy, lively and, above all, happy recording of fiddle tunes played with exceptional grace and skill. Once I started listening to this Canadian prodigy play, I couldn't stop. I think I've absorbed her music into my bloodstream by now.

Verch, a native of the Ottawa Valley and veteran of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, has packed a lot of tradition and innovation onto one CD. Her 16 tracks, logging in at 52 minutes, dazzle and amaze from the first delicate notes on the traditional "William Gagnon" through to the final, airy bowstrokes on George Bennard's "The Old Rugged Cross."

On an album of exceptional tracks, it's hard to pick standouts -- but there are a few which linger in my head just a bit longer than the rest. My personal favorites are "Ross' Reel No. 4," "Britany" (a very pretty waltz of April's own composition) and "Massif Central," a tune written by Marc Bru, April's manager, percussionist and, oh yes, husband. The latter tune has a very European sound (I'd have guessed a Ukranian influence; April in her liner notes cites a region in France) and builds gradually to a frantic pace, ending with April's fiddle flirting madly with a guest clarinet.

Even listing those few favorites makes me feel like I've cruelly overlooked excellent tracks such as "Fire When Ready," a give-and-take number composed by April with Taylor Buckley; the Brazilian-flavored "Diabinho Malucco," which translates to "crazy little devil" and supports the fiddle line with instruments including the soprano saxophone and djembe; "Marry Me," April's lilting ode to her husband; "Sneaky," another tune from April and Taylor, which smacks of mischief; and "Tribute to the Townsends," a wonderfully varied set of tunes by the late Graham, Eleanor and Gray Townsend.

The "Canadian Reel Medley" has a wonderful touch -- the track begins with the late Red Bennett, a popular DJ and musician from the Ottawa Valley, chatting with a much-younger April before she launched into an amazingly fast cut of "Trip to Windsor." Li'l April only has the spotlight for a moment, however; the track is slowed down and mixed with her modern, more mature interpretation of the full set of reels. While the actually blending of the two is a little sloppy, it's a clever gimmick nonetheless.

I was surprised to learn that this is not Verch's first CD. Curses on the border which keeps so much great music from crossing over into the States! Three previous albums -- Springtime Fiddle, Fiddle Talk and Fiddelicious -- are out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

For those of you who, like me, are hearing of April for the first time, a bit of biography is warranted. With more than 400 fiddling awards to her credit, including Canadian Grand Master Fiddling Champion, Canadian Open Fiddling Champion and finalist in the Grand Masters Fiddling Championships in Nashville, April has certainly impressed the right people to get noticed. She started stepdancing at age 3, fiddling at age 6, and she teaches both skills privately and at music camps for kids. Her dancing and foot percussion make a few appearances on this album as well.

She is young and incredibly talented, and when I look over my music collection a decade from now, I hope to see quite a few CDs bearing her name. April is a treasure.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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