Richard Wood,
Come Dance with Me
(self-produced, 1999)

My Canadian girlfriend gave me Richard Wood's Come Dance with Me for Christmas. Ah, but it proves she knows me well!

The album is Wood's fifth, and it furthers the young Prince Edward Island native's exploration into nontraditional fiddle styles while still hanging tightly to those roots which helped form his distinctive way with the instrument.

It begins with the title track, written by Julie Delaney; appropriately enough, the first sound you hear is the call, "Hey Julie, won't you come and dance with me?" Then the music kicks in, bow and fingertips flying across the strings as Wood's backing band provides a hoppin' dance groove.

Wood brought a fair number of musicians with him to the studio. Providing backup to his fiddle are Brad Fremlin on piano, percussion and synthesizer, Skip Holmes on acoustic guitar and banjo, Gordie Belsher on acoustic guitar and bodhran, Jamie Robinson on electric guitar and synthesized drum sequencing, Danny Sutherland on electric, upright and fretless bass, Tom Roach on drums and percussion, Jimmy Faraday on percussion, Liz Rigney on vocals, Mike Cowie on trumpet, Bret Bezanson on drums, Glenn Coolen on tin whistle and small pipes, and Harold Tsistinas on string synthesizer.

He follows up the first track with a fiddle, guitar and piano set -- "Scottish March/Ormond Castle/Ann McNamara/A Minor/The Cambridge Reel/Irish Reel" -- that is pure tradition. It's one of several; Wood certainly doesn't forget his roots. But, while Nova Scotia owes much of its fiddle tradition to its Scots-Irish roots, Wood also draws on the European mainland for inspiration with, for instance, the "Gremlin/Dedicato A Vares/Antigonish Polka" polka set.

His own compositions are scattered throughout the sets (including "Ormond Castle," "The Cambridge Reel" and "Hill of Tara"). He also wrote two airs, the slow, passionate "Tranquility" and the drowsy, atmospheric "Maureen Ennis" (on which I soon realized the "hiss" I initially blamed on poor editing was actually background rain), and the lively set "Too Many Notes/Dunbarton Castle/The Expedience/The Emerald Isle," which draws heavily on tradition but incorporates some blues-influenced bass and a cheery jazz brass line which accents the fiddle a whole lot better than you might expect. (The French-Canadian band La Bottine Souriante is expert at blending the Scots-Irish and jazz traditions; perhaps Wood has been inspired by their sound.)

The final track, the traditional air "Gloomy Winter," benefits from Wood's rock-influenced arrangement. It's heavy, almost ponderous in tone -- a perfect flavor considering the title, eh? -- with dazzling harmonies and countermelodies, and transforms an old tune into something fresh and exciting.

All in all, Come Dance with Me is a solid, exciting recording by a fiddler who deserves a wider audience than he currently enjoys. There isn't a sour note in 11 tracks; any fan of a well-played fiddle should consider this a must.

[ by Tom Knapp ]