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Music from Newfoundland & the Maritime Provinces

(Other than Nova Scotia!)
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Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island Newfoundland Acadian
Although Cape Breton, Nova Scotia contains the densest concentration of superb traditional music in Canada's Atlantic Provinces (and perhaps the world), there is a lot of excellent music coming from all over this region. This other music is generally not so strictly Scottish, having larger Irish, French, and folk influences. 

Updated: December 22, 2007


(Sailing on the Sea)

Various - Sailing on the Sea: An East Coast Compilation (Tidemark 2000). This is a superb collection of 12 songs from the best singers of the region including the remarkable 10? year old Aselin Debison during a wonderful version of "Fairwell to Nova Scotia",  and other Cape Bretoners including: JP Cormier and his heartfelt "Long For The Sea", Gordie Sampson, and Rita & Mary Rankin's "Lantern Burn", an achingly beautiful ballad. Newfoundlanders are represented by The Ennis Sisters, The Fables, and The Celtic Connection. PEI has Lennie Gallant and his rousing "Peter's Dream". Also included are Nova Scotians(?) McGinty, John Gracie, and highland heights. (Very highly recommended)

(My Sister Sings)

(Atlantic Decade)

Various - My Sister Sings (1998 Stephen Macdonald Productions) and Atlantic Decade - 10 Years of East Cost Music(1998 Tidemark Music) -These two collections of music from eastern Canada are remarkably different. On both CDs, the tunes come from previous recordings. My Sister Sings is the better of the two. This is a collection of 12 women singers and fiddler Natalie MacMaster. It is remarkably similar to the very successful Irish compilation A Woman's Heart , both in its concept and variety of music on the album. The only celtic music is provided by Cape Bretoners Natalie and Mary Jane Lamond. Other singers include Sarah McLachlan (NS/BC)), Melanie Doane, Cindy Church, Marie-Jo Thério (in french), Pamela Morgan (NF), Shirley Eikhard (NB), Tara MacLean (PEI), Theresa Malenfant (NB), Colleen Power (NF), Four the Moment (NS), and Laura Smith. Proceeds from the sale of this album to to Atlantic Women's Fishnet, a charity. 
Atlantic Decade suggests why there was a need for My Sister Sings -- of the 18 tracks, there are only three that showcase women musicians. Natalie and Laura Smith are the only musicians that appear on both albums. (Rita MacNeill is the third woman.) Even the tune from The Rankin Family features Jimmy Rankin rather than the sisters with their wonderful voices. There is more celtic material here, some nice folk singing from Ron Hynes and Lennie Gallant and a moderately heavy dose of celtic rock from Rawlins Cross and Ashley MacIsaac, and completely electric music from Brett Ryan and Sloan. 
(Fire in the Kitchen) Various/The Chieftains -Fire in the Kitchen (BMG 1998). This is a sampler of Canadian celtic music with The Chieftains playing along on all tunes. On the album are: from Cape Breton: Natalie MacMaster, Mary Jane Lamond, Ashley MacIsaac, Rita MacNeil, The Rankins, and the Barra MacNeils; from Newfoundland: Great Big Sea, from Ontario: Leahy, and from British Columbia: Spirit of the West. Generally, the addition of The Chieftains on this album muddles the arrangements and adds an out-of-place Irish sound to music that is essentially not Irish. The tracks by The Rankins and Ashley MacIsaac are great, but generally you would be much better off buying one of the samplers which include tracks from the groups' own albums (Celtic Colours Festival CD or the Cape Breton Connection, etc.) NOT recommended.


(Caveat: Newfoundland music is great, but is less traditionally Celtic and more folk oriented than Cape Breton or PEI music. There is a much stronger Irish influence, and much lesser Scottish one. My picks here tend to be folk oriented, but damn good.)
(Red Is the Rose Cover)

(Ennis Sisters 3)

The Ennis Sisters - Red Is the Rose (1997, self published) -- The first album of these three teenage singer/sisters created a big splash throughout Atlantic Canada, understandably -- they're great. They were the 2002 East Coast Music Award (ECMA) Group of the year. This CD has gorgeous harmony singing, exceptionally intelligent arrangements, good songwriting. The sisters sound a lot like Cookie, Heather, and Raylene Rankin -- high praise indeed -- though some feel they are even better! From the first few bars of the first song -- Ron Hynes' brilliant "No Change in Me" you know you are in for a treat. The material ranges from Eric Bogle's "Somewhere in America" to various traditional English and Irish ballads, plus five of their own songs. If you like The Rankin Family sisters, you'll love the Ennis Sisters.(Very highly recommended).

Their third CD, The Ennis Sisters 3 (2000) is a fine album of 15 songs. There is only one traditional song, 6 songs written jointly by Maureen Ennis and Mark Murphy, 2 written separately by them, the great Stan Rogers song "Lies" and 5 others. The quality of the tunes written by Maureen and Mark are remarkably high, given her young age, particularly the slower love songs. I don't find this album meets the extremely high standard of Red is the Rose, particularly in the more ordinary arrangements. It also takes more listens to appreciate this album. But these sisters have so much talent, this is still a very good album.

( I was not as impressed by their 2001 album, Ennis Sisters which consists entirely of Maureen Ennis/Mark Murphy songs, which is a mistake since the songs are weak and very repetitive.)

(Face to the Gale) Ron Hynes -- Face to the Gale (1997 EMI Music Canada) and Standing In Line in the Rain(1998) My first night in St. Johns I got to hear Ron playing solo at the Ship's Inn. Wow, life can be good sometimes. Hynes is one of the best folk songwriters living today, in the same league as Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. And one heck of a singer with a gorgeous-sounding acoustic guitar. Real people, real situations, real emotions, and a fierce devotion to Newfoundland. Bless him. Face to the Gale is my favorite of the 3 albums I have so far. 
(11:11 album cover) Various --11/11 Women Sing the Songs of Ron and Connie Hynes (1997, TMP ) In Newfoundland, they understand what a treasure Ron and Connie are and this is a tribute. Nice tribute. An excellent introduction to 11 very good singers going at 11 good songs, including: Anita Best, Damhnait Doyle, Liz Picard, and Pamela Morgan. 

(Road Rage)

(cover of Rant and Roar)


(Hard and Easy)

Great Big Sea, known simply as "GBS" to their legends of fans, is the ultimate party band. As a friend of mine astutely commented: "You can't listen to a Great Big Sea album and be unhappy."  Great Big Sea mixes up traditional Newfoundland songs and shanties, their own songs, lots of acoustic guitars, a fiddle and an occiasional accordion, terrific harmonies and a rock & roll level of energy. It works better than you could ever imagine. Unless you have experienced GBS, it is hard to imagine how much fun this band is (and how deservedly popular this group is in Canada). GBS fans know the lyrics, and all the group has to do is sing the first three words of a song and the crowd will sing all the rest. Nobody works a crowd as well as GBS. GBS has won the ECMA Entertainer of the Year Award several times, and for good reason.

A great introduction to GBS, and my favorite album of theirs is Road Rage (2000, Warner Music Canada) This ultimate party band took their party on the road in late 1999 - a coast-to-coast tour across Canada (and with some visits to the S.F. Bay Area). This a selection of live tracks from that tour. The tour culminated in a New Year's Eve celebration on the waterfront in St. Johns, Newfoundland, with 90,000 fans all singing the songs, captured on the CD! This CD of 19 songs lacks the polish of their studio albums, but there is such an incredible and wonderful energy on this CD, it is a winner. (Very Highly recommended)

The group also has some excellent studio CDs.Rant and Roar (Sire Records 1998) is an American "best of early GBS" CD. The title track "Rant and Roar" is not some grunge electric blast a la Ashley MacIsaac, but a lovely traditional tune about sailing into Toslow, Nfld. The band members don't have the greatest voices, but they demonstrate excellent solo and harmony singing, including a wonderful a capella version of the sea shanty "General Taylor". This album is big fun. GBS's very fast version of the Scottish tune "Mari-Mac" is amazing. You try singing this chorus clearly at very high speed (less than 7 seconds!): 
"Mari-Mac's mother's making Mari-Mac marry me, 
Mari's mother's making me marry Mari-Mac, 
Well, I'm going to marry Mary for that Mary's taking care of me, 
Well, I'll be feeling merry when I marry Mari-Mac."

GBS' 2d U.S. CD, Turn (1999) is also an excellent CD. The opening song , their own creation, Consequence Free, is an instant classic -- a desire we've all had--great lyrics, catchy tune; this is a song you'll hum or sing along with from the first time you hear it. The rest of the album has less of the over-the-top energy that characterized their debut album, but is again a set of very well crafted songs, half traditional, half originals, all with the same folky feel. Despite their accents, the group does a very creditable version of Trois Navies de Blé, a traditional Newfoundland song in French..   Sea of No Cares (2002)   Something Beautiful (2004). GBS, now a trio w/ guests rather than a quartet. This new album is  mellower than Road Rage, but still consists of well-crafted, highly "singable" songs and some rousing instrumental breaks. Most of the songs are new, although there is one traditional song - "John Barbour". My favorite from the CD is the song "When I Am King", a catchy, upbeat tune with great lyrics. The songs tend to share a theme of maintaining mental health, perspective and hopefulness through love and laughter in a world that is often discouraging. It is a tonic most of us can use. (Recommended) .
The Hard and the Easy
(2005). Everyone's favorite band "from the tropical island of Newfoundland" is back with a different, but still highly enjoyable CD. Rather than lots of songs about the sea, the boys have 12 traditional songs about workers in the woods and rivers for a change., including not one, but two, songs about horses that fell through the ice, and a rolicking, slightly off-colour ballad about falling in love with a mermaid... The infectious energy and lovely harmonies are still here. Pour some rum and get ready for a good time.  (Highly recommended)

(Cover of Gypsy)

Jim Fidler- Gypsy (1995 Root Cellar Productions). Fidler is a remarkable talent, as the people of Newfoundland know, but his music is hard to describe. It is heavily rooted in a traditional sound, with a large Newfoundland/Irish influence, but it also has a touches of classical, bluegrass, reggae, pop and many other influences. Fidler wrote all the songs and tunes on the album, is an excellent singer, and for good measure, performs as his own backup band on most of the tracks, singing lead and back-up vocals, and playing: guitar, mandolin, drums, keyboards, bodhran, Appalachian Indian frame drum, bass, accordion, whistle, tenor banjo, and, of course, fiddle. And he plays them all exceptionally well. In particular, he makes very effective use of the various drums and has tremendous drive in his flute playing. A great album..

Fidler has finally released a second album, Friendly Fire (2001, Roots Cellar Productions). This is another terrific album, although the strong celtic influence is heavily mixed with a rock and pop sound. The result is not a homogenized world music sound, but rather the unique, very Newfoundland, voice of an amazing musician. Highly recommended for those that don't need their drops too pure.

(A Time) The Fables - A Time (2000, ) The Fables won the "Entertainer of the Year" Award at the 2001 Canadian East Coast Music Awards, a very high honor. They remind me of Great Big Sea, but with a more rock sound. These five guys also write and sing Newfoundland songs about drinking, the sea, and love. They play a wide variety of acoustic and electric guitars, fiddles, button accordion, drums, bass. This CD has four live tracks on it, which fairly capture the excitement this band can generate at home. Personally, I prefer GBS, but The Fables are worth checking out. (Recommended)
(Gypsies & Lovers) Irish Descendants -- Gypsies and Lovers (Warner Music Canada, 1994) . This is one of Newfoundland's best known traditional groups. They reflect strong folk and Irish roots. This album is mainly songs. They are fun in the instrumentals, but not my favorite group.
(Sucker for Good Company) Fine Crowd -- Sucker for Good Company (Growler Music, Inc, 1998) This album is much the same type of good time pub songs made popular by Great Big Sea. Their album is not as polished as GBS, but if you need a fix of Newfoundland music... 

Newfoundland links:

PEI -- Prince Edward Island

(Fire Dance) Richard Wood - Fire Dance (1997, Richard Wood). The folks in the Maritimes have known Richard as an exceptional fiddler since he's been a kid. He has grown up to be one of the more electrifying traditional fiddlers touring today. He can, and does, play everything from the most traditional tunes to the contemporary dance arrangements traditional roots with passion and tremendous skill. Richard won two ECMA awards in 1998 for "Instrumental Artist of the Year" and "Roots Traditional Instrumentalist. Recommended. Richard's previous album, The Celtic Touch (Iona Recordngs, 1996) is also very good, and more purely traditional. His newest album, Come Dance With Me (1999) is very eclectic with much non-traditional material.
(In the Genes cover) J.J. Chaisson - Class Act (self-published 2002) OK, ever since J.J.'s brilliant debut CD at age 14, we knew we were on to something special here. Well, J.J has hardly been sitting on his laurels these past 4 years. He has continued to grow as a fiddler (thought that in itself is a remarkable concept!), and has become an extremely good guitarist and mandolin player in the process. This album of instrumental tunes is aptly named, since J.J.'s playing is clearly a class act (Very highly recommended)
J.J.'s debut albut- In the Genes (1997 self-published) I described: "This is your first warning of what promises to be a major new fiddling talent. How many 14 year olds, that's right -- 14, can get to have J.P. Cormier as an accompanist on fiddle and piano. J.J. does not sound like a 14 year old; this is one fine album. This music is not something that J.J. learned out of a book. The album generously pictures J.J.'s two grandfathers, both noted fiddlers, and as the title says, it's 'in the Genes'". Righteous stuff!
(Fiddlers of Eastern PEI) The Prince Edward Island Style of Fiddlingin two albums from Rounder Records (1997): 
  • Fiddlers of Eastern P.E.I. (Rounder #7015) This is an excellent album of 29 traditional tunes by over a dozen fiddlers. 
  • Fiddlers of Western P.E.I. (Rounder #7014) 
  Teresa Doyle Teresa's rendition of the traditional song "The Shearing" on the A Taste of Atlantic Canada collection is absolutely wonderful, high energy stuff. The songs on her other albums are more folk-oriented and not as appealing to my ear. 

Other PEI resources:

Acadian Music

(Party Acadien) Eddy Arsenault and family with Anastasia DesRoches and Louise Arsenault, Party Acadien (House Party Productions 1995 in colaboration with the CBC). Ever been to a party with incredible live music and wish that you could capture the energy and passion of that moment? Well, the CBC was certainly at the right place and time at a house party on Prince Edward Island in January 1995. Eddy Arsenault, not a young man, in the kitchen, at midnight, picks up his fiddle, recording equipment be damned, and plays with such fire and skill, its a wonder he didn't burn the place down single-handedly. The younger generation, many of them his children, get the message, and the party cranks into high gear. People step dancing or Acadien tapping up a storm, on-lookers whooping it up, or offering advice in French. These people are having a LOT more fun than us! But where do they find the energy? Outstanding album. Probably available only mail order. If you like this all instrumental album, you'll like the album Barachois with most of the younger players from this album and a lot of singing. 


Vishten - is a new (1999) group of three young women (keyboard, piano accordian, whistle/bodhran) and one guy (guitar) who carry on the high-energy musical traditions of the Acadians. Their music is filled with much step-dancing and the percussive tapping of feet while seated. They are wonderful singers and great entertainers. They have toured the Bay Area  twice during 2002-03, and a very entertaining act. They have one 3 song CD "La Celtitude de l'île" and maybe another in the works?

Encore CD cover Barachois-- Encore! Barachois, is an extraordinary Acadian quartet from Prince Edward Island, and is one of Canada's national treasures, as recognized by their nomination in 1999 for a Juno award. Their extravagence of talent in singing, dancing, instrumental playing and comedy is stunning. Add to this a level of energy that would tire an Olympic athlete, a passion for traditional music, step-dancing with double-bitted axes, songs while sawing 2x4s or playing the saw ("Le matin quand je m'y lève"), and audiences surrender even as they are used as part of the percussion section, realizing that if they die laughing during the show it was well worth it. This is largely the same group that is responsible for Party Acadien, clearly the best live recording in my CD collection.

   Encore! does a much better job of showcasing this energy and talent than their more subdued debut album Barachois. There are 13 songs of great variety, all in French (with English translations in the excellent liner notes) and one set of tunes. The songs are from the PEI Acadien tradition. Most are accompanied by Acadian foot tapping and step dancing, but they do a brilliant a capella version of "Quand j'étais chez mon père". Nothing will compare with seeing this group live (which is worth a major effort to do), and watching the sitting Louise Arsenault's feet tapping a rhythm so fast her legs are a blur while fiddling up a storm (listen to "Les Quatre Coins"). Or watching Chuck Arsenault step dancing with a sousaphone. Don't worry about the language problem, just go on-line and order this CD from Barachois directly or from one of the Canadian mail order dealers. If you own even a single CD from Ad Vielle Que Pourra or La Bottine Souriante, you owe it to yourself to get this CD. (Very highly recommended)
Barachois album cover


Lennie Gallant

(Fair Vive la Tradition) Felix and Formanger -- Carrying on the Tradition - Fair Vive La Tradition (1998). (1998). This duo from a French-speaking area of western Newfoundland took Celtic Colours by storm in 1998. Bernard Felix is by any measure an extraordinarily good button accordion player. But when he simultaneously provides a loud, complex, and incredibly energetic one-man percussion section by tapping both shoes like a man possessed (while sitting), in an the Acadian style, the house went wild. No little toe-taps here, both feet were 6 inches off the floor. Sweat flying off his face, Bernard would fly through this aerobic drill from hell the accordion racing through long sets of reels while the feet sounding like syncopated machine guns firing. Norman Formanger provides tasteful, though less energetic, accompaniment on bass guitar. Happily, this album successfully captures much of this energy (though seeing it live is disbelieving this kind of effort is even possible!) This is the kind of album one might not imagine liking, but Felix and Formanger give you no choice but to love it. But where do these Acadians get all this energy? 

Other Canadian Musicians and Groups of Note

(Leahy album cover) Leahy -- Leahy (Virgin Music, Canada 72438-42955, 1996) This young group of 9 brothers and sisters from Lakefield, Ontario won two Juno awards in 1998 (the Canadian Grammies). The music is centered on the fiddle playing of Donnell Leahy with his siblings adding piano, bass, guitar, mandolin, drums, more fiddles, and step dancing. The tunes originate in many cases from traditional sources, although Leahy's arrangement of them is non-traditional. In particular, the tunes are played at much faster speed and with electrified accompaniment. Much of their act is visual, particularly the wonderful step dancing, and their album is a pale shadow of their live act. (Very nice WWW site with audio files)

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