Gift CD Suggestions

Jennifer Roland's 3rd CD is an exquisitely played collection of Cape Breton fiddle tunes.

Updated December 6, 2006

Here is list of recent releases that are sure to please any of your friends & relatives who have been good. I "ap;logize" for the relative neglect of Irish music and  the heavy emphasis on Cape Breton CDs, but that's what I've been listening to, and the overwhelming experience of Celtic Colours again this year...There is just an incredible amount of brilliant music coming out of Cape Breton now and having to listen fast to try to keep up. There are some CDs that are bound to please your friends and relatives.

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American Celtic:

These CDs explore the role of Celtic songs in America, songs the immigrants brought with them from Scotland and Ireland and shaped American music indelibly from the hills of Appalachia to the broad prairies to the cowboy songs of Wyoming. Listen and learn.

(Border of Heaven) Connie Dover -- The Border of Heaven "Celtic Music on the American Frontier " (2000 Taylor Park Music) Connie brings her wonderful voice, her Missouri background, her experience as a trail cook on Wyoming cattle drives, and her study of Scottish music to illuminate the celtic roots of well-known "American" songs. The oral tradition of this music is beautifully demonstrated in Connie singing the British ballad "The Sailor Cut Down in His Prime" followed by cowboy singer Skip Gorman singing the American version, "The Streets of Laredo". Particularly well suited to Connie's skills is the American folk song "The Water Is Wide", formerly a Scottish ballad. As usual, Connie is accompanied by the finest of Scottish musicians such as Phil and Johnny Cunningham, and fellow Missourian Roger Landes on bazouki. (Highly recommended)



Cape Breton:  (where you can buy these CDs)

Failte - A Cape Breton Welcome (Celtic Music Interpretive Centre)   Cape Breton is famous for its hospitality, and this is a musical welcome that has you up and dancing, or at least tapping your foot before you know what hit you. And we did tell you that stamina was important...this is 72 minutes of highly energetic music. The CD was produced as a fundraiser for the new Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, and the local musicians from up and down Route 19 contributed one of the tracks from their own CDs. Lets see, thats 18 world class musicians (+ accompanists). The CD is heavily biased toward fiddle music (14 fiddle tracks, 2 piano, 1 song), 1 bagpipes), and slightly biased toward younger players you might not have heard, but totally deserve to be on this all-star lineup. The cast includes: Buddy MacMaster,  Ian MacDougall, Glenn Graham, Mac Morin,  Robbie & Isaac Fraser,  Natalie MacMaster,   Karen Beaton,   Ryan J. MacNeil,   Troy MacGillivray, Jackie Dunn, Andrea Beaton, Raylene Rankin,  Kinnon Beaton, Rodney MacDonald,  Howie MacDonald,  Mairi Rankin, Shelly Campbell, and Wendy MacIsaac. The only reason this was not an essential purchase for me was that I already bought all the CDs these tracks were taken from! Be forewarned, that after you get a sample of their playing, there is a high chance that you may be buying a whole lot more Cape Breton CDs in the near future. Hey, this is great stuff, and supports a worthy cause. A superb introduction to the music of Cape Breton. (Very highly recommended )

The Barra MacNeils - All at Once  (Shoreline Records 2005). The Barras have been a Cape Breton tresure for nearly 20 years. And like a fine wine, they keep getting better and better with age. Recently they have been joined by Boyd and Ryan MacNeil, former members of Slainte Mhath (aka "the Baby Barras), and their sound is richer and fuller now. The Barras are sounding very, very good right now. Their instrumentals have the classic drive and lift their fans expect, and will lift you out of your seat and dancing around the room in no time. Lucy, Stewart and Kyle have never sounded better on the songs. This album has a lot of variety from the almost pop sound of  their song "Haven't Got a Care" to the Gaelic "Gearan Na Maighdinn". I've 20+ new CDs to listen to, but this one keeps creeping back into my CD player. I bet it will do the same in yours. Well done Barras!  (Very highly recommended)

Jennifer Roland - For Each New Day (self-published 2006) For the last 10 or more years, Jennifer has been playing some of the most beautiful fiddle music in Cape Breton and dancing up a storm. This, her 3rd album, is masterful. Jennifer and producer Allie Bennett keep the arrangements simple and the tunes traditional, and Jennifer's gorgeous fiddling is allowed to shine throughout, and shine it does. Jennifer infuses each of her sets of tunes with joy and just the right rythm and touch; her jigs bounce along as nice to my ear as Buddy MacMaster's, and her strathspeys have a bite that is Cape Breton music at its best. Her rendition of the classic march, Johnny Cope, is a showcase for her tremendous fiddling ability. This is the best of Jennifer's three excellent albums, and not to be missed. (Very highly recommended)

Ian MacDougall (and Mac Morin) - Before You Arrived. (self-published 2006).  This CD was recorded in the West Mabou Hall, a cozy little community hall in Cape Breton legendary for the quality of the dances held there. It is as if the two musicians are warming up before the dance, Ian on fiddle and Mac on piano. It's also if you were a jockey on a very, very strong and eager thoroughbred, trying to hold him back before the race starts. These two stellar musicians radiate musical energy, and it is very, very clear that once the doors open, the extremely knowing dance folks of Mabou are going to be in for a barn-burner of a dance that will have everyone totally exhausted by 2:00 am, but no one sitting down before then. Paul Cranford, a noted Cape Breton fiddler and composer writes: "Ian's style is earthy and rooted in tradition.... As a team Ian and Mac are very popular on the Cape Breton square dance circuit. They play lively hard driving tunes, with a waltz for good measure." Boy, is that ever an understatement.  This CD is to much of the light-weight "celtic" music that one hears what a good pint of Guinness is to Coors Lite. This is the righteous playing that makes me so love Cape Breton music. (Very highly recommended)

Glenn Graham - Drive (Browbeat 2005) This CD could not be more aptly named. Take a listen to a few tracks of this CD and you will know why Glenn is one of the most requested fiddlers for dances in Cape Breton. I remember Natalie MacMaster and her family after a concert charging off to a dance in West Mabou because Glenn (and cousin Rodney MacDonald) were playing. Glen notes the definition of "drive" includes "to push or propel onward with force...the provide the motive power move along rapidly...a strong motivating power or stimulus..." It could also include his playing on this album. This is "meat and potatoes" Cape Breton playing - Glenn on fiddle, the great Joel Chaisson on piano and Patrick Gillis on guitar, and its off to the dances we go! (Very highly recommended)



(Hard and Easy) Great Big Sea -- The Hard and the Easy. 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)


(Legacy 1) Alasdair Fraser & Paul Machlis - Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle: Volume One (Culburnie Records) In this CD of 21 sets of classic Scottish fiddle tunes, Alasdair pays homage to the tradition without seeking to modernize it as is often his wont on other CDs. Machlis plays a lovely and restrained piano accompaniment, but the focus is always on the fiddle. The playing is amazingly precise with an exceptionally gorgeous and warm tone, even for Alasdair, perhaps due to the special fiddle Alasdair borrowed for the recording. In fact, the playing is so controlled, it sounds like chamber music. To understand the difference between the Scottish high culture sound passed down in Scotland and the Hebridean dance music passed down in Cape Breton, just compare this CD with Buddy MacMaster's Judique Flyer - two approaches to Scottish tunes of the same period. You will love the purity of sound in Alasdair's CD, but Buddy's will have you out of your chair dancing away. (Very highly recommended)

English Traditional Folk


Welsh, Breton, and Galician Celtic Music

(auga de Maio) Milladoiro - Auga de Maio (Green Linnet, 2000) Here is more magical, charming, haunting, exotic and refreshing celtic music from Spain. This is a studio album compared to Milladoiro's brilliant 1997 live concert album As Fadas de Estraño Nome. Milladoiro, a seven piece group, features Nando Casal on gaita (Galician bagpipe), clarinet, tin whistle, crumhorn, Galician tambourine, and vocals; Rodrigo Romani on harp, bouzouki, guitar, ocarina and vocals; Xosé Mendez on flute; Xosé Fereirós on gaita, oboe, mandolin, bouzouki, uilleann pipes, Galician tambourine and vocals; Harry C on violin, Antón Seone on keyboard, guitar, mandola and hurdy gurdy, and Moncho García on percussion and vocals. This ensemble of instruments creates a very different and highly varied sound compared to most celtic groups. There are also a couple of excellent songs sung in Galician. The songs and tunes are an emotional roller-coaster ride taking the listener from lyrical airs to rousing dance tunes, seducive songs, to sombre pieces with influences of Moorish, flamenco, and Irish flavors appearing in this very interesting music. You will listen to this CD a lot! (Very highly recommended)

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