Music Review: Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac - Seinn

We're down to the stretch run now on holiday shopping, and I'm determined to use the last few days to fill you in on more local music you might like to place on your wish list, or pick up for someone else. I'm all about buying local these days, keeping the cash circulating in our region. While you're out looking for presents, consider buying from the many excellent artists and craftspeople we have right here. You're helping a local small business person, and probably a local store as well, and the benefits to our economy are huge when more and more people do this. Heaven knows we need some economic stimulus these days, and since you're going to be spending money on presents anyway, it's a great opportunity to be part of the solution.

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If there were two more marvelous instruments on the East Coast than Lamond's voice and MacIsaac's fiddle, I'd like to know about them. Put them together, and you have the magical new album, Seinn. A mix of fiddle instrumentals and Gaelic vocals, you get the best of both performers, drawing on their shared love of Scots Celtic heritage, and a desire to present it as a thriving, modern music. They are long-time friends and performers, but it's the first time they've collaborated on a full album, with spectacular results.

Both defy the cliche of Cape Breton music, that it's rusty old fiddle and piano tunes for fans of older times. As they've proven time and again in their careers, the styles and themes they draw on happily translate into modern music. This is evident especially on MacIsaac's Keeping Up With Calum, inspired by her busy one-year-old. Her gliding, airy fiddle takes classic patterns and techniques, weaving them over a jazzy bed of funky acoustic guitar riffs and Geoff Arsenault's clipped percussion. Trilling the notes, you'd swear she was playing a tin whistle, and no old Scot or Cape Bretoner ever put those blue notes into a melody. Lamond somehow always manages to make even the most traditional of stories and lyrics sound modern, by using contemporary phrasing and arrangements. That's no small feat, given there's not a word of English. But again, it's the quality of her voice that affects us, as in the old love song Air a' Ghille Tha Mo Run (It Is The Lad That I Love). All the emotion and inspiration you need comes across strongly as she sings. And while Lamond is able to do this unaccompanied, as she proves on Rinn Mi Corr is Naoi Mile, she and MacIsaac also come up with great arrangements. While Lamond may play with the melody a bit, anything goes for the instruments. Oran an t-Saighdeir features a guitar line playing off the melody, and sweet modern harmony chords on piano. It's bright and upbeat, contemporary yet ancient.

Okay, there is room for something old-time, a traditional Cape Breton workout, the fiddle tune Angus Blaise, featuring Wendy's cousin Ashley MacIsaac joining in on piano. It's a chance for her to shine and show off her virtuoso talent, a tremendous medley featuring a few originals in the mix. Of course, in the MacIsaac family, they don't call this showing off, they call it playing. I defy anyone to claim they don't like Cape Breton music after listening to this album.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob 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).

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