Mon, Jun 13, 2011.
Ashley MacIsaac's recording career has been a varied one, to say the least. He's broken down nearly every barrier you can imagine for fiddle music, and even dropped the bow to record non-fiddle tunes. There has been thrash, rap, unique hybrids, and of course, classic, traditional Celtic. There was one point where he was even a hitmaker, back in the Sleepy Maggie days, with his breakthrough disc (and easily his biggest hit), Hi How Are You Today? It's been 16 controversial years since that album, but now MacIsaac feels ready to revisit that territory.
Speaking from his home in Windsor, Ontario, MacIsaac says he's purposefully made a disc of several styles, instead of concentrating on one theme for the album: "I looked back on the three previous albums I had made, and each of those times i was trying to be creative, and put fiddle music in another context," he explains. "But I came back to feeling people like the idea of an overview of music. So that's what you have here (on the new Crossover album). It's what I like , rock and Celtic, some soft, some loud. When Hi How Are You Today? came out, people said it was schizophrenic, but that's how people approach things now".
MacIsaac feels its the song that matters now, not a whole album, and he says each song stands alone. He casting as wide a net as possible: "I made it so people woulld like one track or another because that's how people are buying these days. It's a bit of everything, going from quiet fiddle tunes to big, loud songs, with transitions in it like I would program a live show."
It also happens to have songs that will jump out for radio programmers, ITunes downloaders, even grey-haired Celtic trad fiddle fans. My CB Home is a classic mournful fiddle instrumental, whereas Poka Rokin is, um, rockin'. And She's A Rare One features a return of MacIsaac's best-known singing partner, Mary Jane Lamond, whose world-beat Celtic vocal put Sleepy Maggie (and MacIsaac) onto the national charts way back. It's the obvious attempt at more of that magic.
Throughout his career, MacIsaac has made tentative moves toward the microphone, and there are a surprising number of his vocal tracks here. While he doesn't have Lamond's pipes (who does?), he can make an interesting rock-fiddle mix such as 2012 - Too Late To Hide compelling. "I sang before I was a fiddle player, when I was a kid I sang Gaelic tunes," he offers. "I don't mind using them (vocal tunes) now. I never set out to be singer, I was never confident about it, i don't know where my range is, I'm not a trained singer. But if my voice lends itself to it, I do it."
MacIsaac's always walked a tightrope, courting controversy and expanding horizons. There's not much he could do to shock or annoy people now, except to offer up a cohesive and popular set of strong originals, which may even bring him back to mainstream audiences. Now wouldn't that blow wind up a few people's kilts?
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).