Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tried and True

Of the many tracks, artists and CD's I've scribbled down, meaning to write something about them here someday, I feel the most remiss about neglecting the two I mention today. I have most certainly not been at all remiss in listening to them over the past couple of years. 
The set "Donald & Gordon's" from Píob is Fidheall by Nova Scotians Kenneth and Angus MacKenzie wandered through my internet radio list and I thought it would be worth having the CD, if only for that tight, driven track. As it turned out, there isn't a remotely bad or unexciting track in the lot. Indeed, if I remember correctly, the only one I have ever skipped habitually was 4, "When Harry Met Shelly," and that only in the time my pipe band was learning a version of the first tune "Highlander's Farewell to Ireland" ("Highland Harry") for our MSR, leaving me quite in terror of getting the MacKenzie's very contagious setting stuck in my head where it might be confused with the setting I was supposed to be learning.

Despite the title (yes, that does mean "Pipes and Fiddle") the CD is far from minimalist as far as arrangements are concerned. Angus, the brother who is doing the piping in this case, also plays the whistle, and there are guest artists variously supplying guitar, percussion, banjo, bouzouki, and piano, insuring that the album never settles into a single, predictable sound. Better, if the musical presentation is quite impressively polished, it is truly polished to be its brightest, its most vivacious, not carefully reigned in by the studio setting.

But isn't much use just telling you about it, when you can listen to it here. There is also a bio of the MacKenzie brothers (taken from the CD jacket, in fact) on the website of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. 

One aspect of the musicianship on Píob is Fidheall that was a bit of a revelation to me was the use of the piano. I knew piano was fairly common in Cape Breton music, but it was, perhaps, hearing a CD's worth of it in conjunction with the pipes--and not merely as a rhythm instrument, even in that setting--that underlined its delightful versatility. The clincher: there is one track on the album that strays entirely from the pipes-and-fiddle theme, and that is a piano solo  ("Calum's Cille Combo") by a third MacKenzie brother, Calum. You just don't hear reels on the piano every day. Or at least I don't. . .

Or at least I didn't until I decided (and very quickly) that I must have More of That Sort of Thing. Quite fortunately, Mac Morin, who did the rest of the piano work on Píob is Fidheall, has a solo album (self-titled), and it's splendid. Again, it's an album of very Cape Breton music with a variety of accompanying musicians, so the soundscape changes a bit from track to track. I have no aesthetic reasons for choosing "Hughie's Old Place" as my favourite set: I just never manage to tire of hearing "Bog A' Lochan," as a piano tune. But it would be a bit more comprehensive to state that, as with the previous CD I mentioned, there isn't a track I don't admire. And, as with the previous CD, it seems to wear mighty well.

There are plenty of clips here.


Mahri said...

My... I usually dislike piano in this sort of music, and Cape Breton style can sometimes be a little much for me. But *this*! This is splendid.

Molly said...

I'm mighty glad you thought so, too. It's one thing to appreciate a recording for its technical virtues or for the taste the musician had in picking the songs, but these two albums just hit me as so spot-on *musical*.