Richard Wood,
Fire Dance
(self-released, 1997)

Does the world really need another fiddler from Canada's eastern shores?

C'mon, people ... this is me you're talking to. Of course we do! Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac notwithstanding, there is plenty of room out there for another skillful set of hands working magic with horsehair and steel-wrapped strings. Richard Wood, who took home the 1998 East Coast Music Award while still in his teens, is a welcome addition to the ranks.

Fire Dance is Wood's fourth album, a self-released collection of instrumental sets from Prince Edward Island. While I might balk slightly at a musician who refers to his own playing as "refreshing," I can't fault Wood for his use of the word. There are enough traditional selections to please the purists, and enough modern interpretations to satisfy people looking for something new. In the latter category, a standout track is "Cameron Chisolms." Wood's fiddle trips lightly over buzzing electric guitars and keyboard riffs reminiscent of early '70s hardcore rock. Another medley of note (two unnamed reels coupled with "Nine Point Coggie" and "Bonnie Kate") really makes the fiddle/electric guitar combination work.

At the other end of the spectrum, another set ("Olde Dublin Jig," "Crabbit Shona Jig" and "Janie's Reel") is almost purely a traditional fiddle and keyboard arrangement. A bit with drums and high hat in the middle sounds a little forced, but a bass line through the end meshes nicely with the otherwise traditional sound. A few other sets are also untouched by anything that wouldn't sound at home at a foot-stompin' ceilidh.

Wood isn't afraid to bury himself a little behind the work of other musicians. Although the fiddle is almost always the focus of each tune, he recruited nine accomplished instrumentalists to fill out his sound. Wood also lists the four-member Nova Scotia Symphony in the credits, although they are employed only on a single track, the slow and graceful air "Kimura."

Most of the tunes on this album are traditional, although Wood is credited for writing several (including the aforementioned "Kimura" and "Olde Dublin Jig"). He seems to have a good hand for composition, as the new pieces blended nicely with the old. His compositions "Fiddle Fever" and "Fire Dance" in particular are excellent rockin' fiddle tunes. If that's not enough to get you and your mates out on the dance floor, there's also "The Fire Dance," a slightly longer club mix version of "Fire Dance."

My loyalties are still strong enough that I'd urge newcomers to Maritime fiddle styles to check out Cape Breton's Natalie MacMaster first. But keep Wood in mind for later forays into the field; he's worth remembering.

[ by Tom Knapp ]