Fiddle (gif)
(Glencoe Hall)

Ambassadors of Cape Breton Fiddling

Updated: March 2, 2010

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The fiddle is at the forefront of Cape Breton music, and what an extraordinary crowd of fiddlers have been produced on this island. More are coming, as young musicians are filling the shoes of their predecessors with enormous skill while exploring other musical traditions, particularly Irish and American. It is a wonderful world of music that defines Cape Breton and is winning converts around the world.

Currently touring fiddlers:

(Keepers of the Tradition)


Non-touring gems:

The next generation, and boy (or girl) can they ever play!

(even more CB fiddlers)

Karen Beaton, John Cambell, Joe Doucette, Jackie Dunn, Ray Ellis, David Greenberg

The Ambassadors:

(Fit As A Fiddle CD)

Natalie MacMaster In a land filled with superb fiddlers, Cape Bretoners know that Natalie MacMaster is very special. Her stunning virtuosity, honed by years of playing for ceilidhs, make her dance tunes irresistible to dancers.  No one has worked harder and longer than Natalie at touring around the word and bringing Cape Breton traditional music to the attention of fans in Canada, the U.S. and around the world. If there is only one Cape Breton fiddler that Americans have heard of or seen, it is almost always Natalie.
      Cape Breton could not have hoped for a better ambassador. Unfailingly gracious, charming, and energetic, she sells this music better than anyone. On all her tunes, Natalie draws a gorgeous tone from her fiddle.  If you get a chance to see her, do not miss it!  Natalie  first two albums: Four on the  Floor, recorded when Natalie was 16, and Road to the Isle recorded when she was 18, are classics. They have recently been digitally remastered and released in a combined CD, Compilation (Warner Music Canada). Very highly recommended.  Her third album, Fit as a Fiddle, (pictured at left) is also superb. 

No Boundaries Album No Boundaries (Warner Music Canada), Natalie's 1997 album, unlike her entirely instrumental earlier albums, includes vocals by Cookie Rankin and Bruce Guthro. Eclectic as the choice of music may be, Natalie's traditional Cape Breton background shines through this beautiful album. Five songs from this album are available in Real Audio on the WWW. There is an interesting short biography of Natalie from Fiddler magazine on-line. I recommend this album as the first one to get 

(My Roots Are Showing album)
Winner, 1999 Juno Award, Traditional Album of the Year (=Canadian Grammy)

(In My Hands)

(Natalie Live)
Natalie's 1998 album My Roots Are Showing, Traditional Fiddle Music of Cape Breton Island (Rounder ROUN CD 116 617 033-2) is an all-instrumental album, and a tribute to the musicians who carried the tradition down to her generation. No gimmicks; just fiddle, piano, and guitar (and drums on two tunes). And a great final track recorded live at a ceilidh in Glencoe Mills in Cape Breton with the locals step dancing up a storm in the background. (I was there, and it was awesome.)
      Characteristically, Natalie infuses the sparse arrangements with joy, passion, and stunningly beautiful playing. Backing Natalie are Cape Breton's finest musicians including on different tunes Dave MacIsaac, Tracy Dares, Gordie Sampson, Joel Chiasson, Buddy MacMaster, Mary Jessie MacDonald, Paul Mills and Matthew Foulds. Great liner notes give the history of the tunes. Given its very traditional character, I suggest that persons getting their first Natalie album try No Boundaries first.
    In My Hands (Rounder 7025) is a much more experimental CD that explores the boundaries between Cape Breton and world music. It won Natalie her second Juno Award. Natalie mixes Cape Breton music with pop and rock influences in an attempt reach out to new audiences beyond the trad fans who will buy any album she cuts anyway. My preferences lie with the more traditional arrangements often used in the first few tunes of a set. Needless to say, the fiddling is breathtaking, as always. The album also features Sharon Shannon, Allison Krause singing a lovely ballad, fiddler Mark O'Connor, and we get to hear Natalie sing, well at least vocalize, on one song. (Recommended, but be prepared)      Live - (2002, Rounder) A double CD-- the first CD is from a live concert performance and reflects the more heavily amplified and electrified Natalie displays on her tours in the U.S. and Canada. The 2d was recorded live at a square dance in Glencoe Mills, Cape Breton. It is a much stripped down arrangement of fiddle, guitar and piano in front of a dancing crowd. I vastly prefer the 2d CD.   Also don't miss Traditional Music from Cape Breton Island she recorded with Buddy. (see review below)
Rosie MacKenznie - The MacKenzie Project (2009) The first time I heard Rosie fiddle - on the first Cottars' album -- I was stunned  at the very high quality or her playing. She was 12. She played on the next two Cottars' CDs, then she and her brother went their separate ways from the MacGillivray siblings (who retained the name "The Cottars"). Rosie's playing has gotten better and better to the point where I don't think there's anyone better, and Rosie is always a lot of fun to see & listen to.  Having heard  Rosie bring the house down every time she played at Celtic Colours in Cape Breton, I eagerly anticipated her new group and this their debut CD. It is everything I could have hoped for. Rosie's playing has enormous energy and drive, beautiful control and tone, a total mastery of technical wizardy, and a remarkable level of polish.  To top it off, Rosie is charming and projects the joy and excitement of this music extremely well.  Rosie is joined by legendary Cape Bretoners Howie MacDonald on piano and Dave MacIsaac on dobro, guitar, mandolin; and an Irish contingent of Donogh Hennessy on guitar, and Pauline Scanlon as the lead vocals. There are two songs among the 11 tracks - and Pauline has a very lovely voice. This CD is a bit hard to find; I ordered my copy from The Blue Heron Gift Shop in Baddeck; well worth the effort to track down. (Very Highly Recommended)

(Judique Flyer)

Buddy MacMaster -- Cape Breton Tradition (Rounder Records 2003 Real Audio samples) . No one has played Cape Breton fiddle music better and more graciously than Buddy for the last half-century, and his playing continues to be glorious to listen to. Recording technology has evolved to allow Buddy to avoid the studio where he seemed very stiff on his earliest recordings, and to record this CD over two days in the home of one of Buddy's neighbors. Everyone seems comfortable, the piano sounds great, and the result is a you. Buddy is ably  accompanied on piano by his daughter Mary Elizabeth MacMaster Macinnis. Kudos again to Rounder Records for the superb 28 pages of liner notes full of stories about Buddy and the tunes (Essential purchase)

Natalie & Buddy MacMaster - Traditional Music from Cape Breton Island (MacMaster Music Inc, 2005). I like this CD. No frills, no gimmicks, no drum sets, no electric guitars. Just  Buddy, his sister Betty Lou Beaton on piano,  niece Natalie, and almost-MacMaster Dave MacIsaac on guitar,  playing in front of a few friends and family at Natalie's parents' house and a couple of other intimate places. The goal was not to make a CD but just to get a recording of Buddy and Natalie playing some of their favorite tunes together, some of which were not commonly heard. There is an intimacy and informality to this manner of recording  that lets the passion of these players for this music display. Here is traditional Cape Breton music played with tremendous heart and superb skill by two of the finest fiddlers you will ever hope to hear.  There are terrific marches, the jigs Buddy is so famous for, and some rip-roaring strathspeys and reels. Natalie has recorded several CDs that have strong rock, bluegrass and fusion influences. Buddy's early recordings were painfully formal. Here they both in the form that has made them legendary in Cape Breton. There is a synergy to the playing of all four musicians that gives the music the drive and power never found on a standard studio recording. 68 minutes of joy! Get this CD; you will love it. (essential purchase)

Judique Flyer (2000, Stephen Macdonald Productions) Ask a Cape Bretoner who is the best fiddler on the island (if you dare!), and Buddy's name will come up more than any other. Natalie's uncle and mentor, Buddy has been driving the dancers at the halls in Glencoe Mills and West Mabou for six decades. A remarkably humble, gentle man, he is revered on Cape Breton, and increasingly around the world, as he has taught and demonstrated Cape Breton fiddle at schools and workshops around the world. Buddy's playing is gentle, passionate, delicate, fiery, modest and thrilling. Natalie's uncle was 76 when this was recorded, but there is more drive and lift in his fiddling than in most fiddlers 1/3 his age. He continues to play to more dances in a week than younger fiddlers will play in a year. He fiddling has been knowingly described as having "clean, crisp bowing and the gentle Gaelic lilt combined with a powerful and robust tone" with many intricate gracings and a terrific "lift" for the dancers. He is joined on each of the 14 sets of tunes by a different pianist, and it is a role of Cape Breton's finest. This CD will become one of the definitive Cape Breton fiddle recordings. 62 minutes of Cape Breton joy. (Very highly recommended) Buddy is also the subject of a nice video, Buddy MacMaster, Master of the Cape Breton Fiddle (1 hour, 1992, Seabright Murphy Video Productions).
         Buddy's two earlier recordings Judique on the Floor (1989 ACD-9020) and Glencoe Hall (1970s?) with John Morris Rankin of the Rankin Family on piano seem quite stiff and unnatural compared to his recent recordings.  

(Jennifer Roland's - For Each New Day CD)

(Dedication album cover)

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. (Essential purchase)

Dedication (JLR 97) I was at a concert in Big Pond in 1997 where many big name players were appearing, including Jerry Holland. And this young, very young, lady came out shyly after some kids had played. She started in on a slow air, written by her sister, Karen "Karmie" Steele, and played it in an achingly beautiful and heartful manner. Then she let rip with a couple of reels and blew the crowd away. Jennifer has been given Scotty Fitzgerald's fiddle to play, and it couldn't have found a better home. This wonderful debut album is filled with exciting and terrific playing with excellent backup. The two airs on this album by Karmie are gorgeous. One of my very favorite Cape Breton CDs because it so full of heart, so well played, and has some great tunes written by Jennifer and Karmie. Very highly recommended.
You can also find Jennifer playing a reel on the Cape Breton Connection CD described above. Since I met Jennifer, she has matured into a terrific entertainter. She is clearly one of the best step-dancers in Cape Breton, and a great crowd-pleaser. In 2001, she released her second CD Wings which is reviewed elsewhere.

(Fiddle Music 101)

(Cape Breton Fiddle Music Not Calm) 

(fine thank you very much)

(Close to the Floor)

Ashley MacIsaac has become famous/ infamous recently in part because his personal life and of his fusion of grunge, rock and jazz with celtic music on his album from the mid-1990s hi, how are you? (Polygram 1997) which got tons of airplay and sold very, very well.
But behind his playing on that album is a traditional fiddler of rare genius and intensity, whose playing is extremely well-respected among the elders in Cape Breton, heard often there, but rarely in the States.
    His traditional playing can best be heard on his 2001 CDs: Fiddle Music 101 with guitarist Dave MacIsaac (self-published), a short (38 min) CD of pure virtuosity. Ashley on fiddle, Dave on guitar. No one else. No synthesizers or sampling. Sets labeled simply "Jigs1", "Jigs2", "Tunes in A", etc. on the most minimal of a liner, simply awesome traditional playing. If you want to know why Ashley is viewed by many in Cape Breton as their greatest living fiddler, listen to this CD. Personally, I prefer playing that is a bit more relaxed with more of a swing to it, but if you want to hear some incredibly difficult, precise, clean playing by the kid who just flips a right-handed fiddle over and plays it left handed... (Highly recommended)

Another traditional choice is his mostly live album Cape Breton Fiddle Music Not Calm (2001, self-published). Two of Cape Breton's finest fiddlers go on a tour around the island to recover from crises in their lives-- Ashley's pop career implosion and for Howie the tragic death of playing partner John Morris Rankin -- to let the music heal them. Playing live before knowledgeable, appreciative, and energetic crowds on two fiddles simultaneously, the music bursts forth in a torrent of passion and skill. Later, in a studio Howie added piano on some tracks and drummer Matthew Foulds. Because the fiddling was recorded live, this is not studio-refined commercial tunes aimed for airplay, but intense, wild Cape Breton music played for the joy of it. Three of the tracks are 13, 14, and 18 minutes long, the last one cut off abruptly as the tape recorder ran out of tape! (They kept playing for another 5 minutes.) 59 minutes of music. Minimal liner notes. Probably not the first Cape Breton CD you'll want, but for fans of the music a "must" purchase. .
Ashley's first CD - Close to the Floor(1992)-- made when he was 17 and his sequel to Hi, How Are You Today? -- Fine Thank You Very Much (1996) both on the Ancient Music label, also are very traditional. Ashley is also a excellent traditional step dancer. (You probably want to avoid his 2000 CD Helter Skeltic). Ashley came through the Bay Area twice in 1997, drawing large and enthusiastic crowds, but mainly playing his grunge/celtic fusion music.

Jerry Holland - It's very hard to know where to begin describing one of my favorite fiddler's music. I have long been a huge fan of Jerry's lyrical playing and tunewriting, and his light and sweet touch on the fiddle. All his CDs are wonderful, and surprisingly diverse. A very good place to start is with A Session with Jerry Holland. (w/ Dave MacIsaac & John Morris Rankin)  (self-published 2005). This gem of a collection has thankfully been re-issued. Digitally recorded in 1990 this classic album was originally issued as cassette. Three of the twelve cuts appeared on the now out of print Fiddlesticks compilation. Here is teamed with two of the finest musicians ever to grace Cape Breton (or elsewhere), and the result is pure bliss. There are far, far too few recordings of John Morris Rankin (to whose memory this CD is dedicated), and this CD again shows why he was such a treasure.  The recording quality on the CD is very nice indeed for 1990.  (Essential purchase)). My mni-reviews of some of Jerry's other CD's can be found here.

 (Return to the Cape album cover)

(Heart and Soul)
John Paul ("J.P.") Cormier - Return to the Cape (Borealis Recording in Canada, or Iona IRCD041, 1997) On an island where there is an an incredible abundance of talent, J.P. has more than his share. Cormier has an amazing range -- he's an excellent singer and songwriter of Nashville-style songs, and a superb guitarist and fiddler (and plays six other instruments!). This entirely instrumental album has J.P. playing all the parts except for the piano, played with great skill by his wife, the legendary Hilda Chiasson-Cormier.
 Another all-instrumental CD is Heart and Soul (Borealis Records, 1998) Again, J.P fiddles up a storm, while accompanying himself on 6- and 12-string guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, drums, percussion, strings, synthesizer, and piano. His wife Hilda provides piano backing on most tracks. None of his award-winning songs here, and the tunes are a mix of Cape Breton, bluegrass, Irish, etc. However, when J.P. is playing guitar or banjo, he is amazing, and when he's fiddling, life is good. Highly recommended.

Troy MacGillivray - Boomerang (Trolleymac Music 2003). Troy is the brother of the better-known Kendra MacGillivray, and is familiar to most as the excellent piano player in Kendra's band. Troy had tended to fiddle in Kendra's shadow, and I was shocked to hear him fiddle at the 2003 Celtic Colours where he absolutely blew the crowd away at the Festival Club at 3 having to follow Jennifer Roland and Kimberley Fraser - tough acts indeed to follow. This is an excellent album with Troy playing the piano on all 10 tracks, and since this is a studio recording, playing the fiddle also on 5 tracks! Scary level of talent here. Troy's playing sound more traditionally Cape Breton than Kendra's and I love it. (Highly recommended)

(Over the Waves) Kendra MacGillivray - Over the Waves (Kenroy Music Productions 2000). This excellent CD shows the remarkable growth in Kendra's music since her 1996 CD Clear the Track. Coming from a long line of great musicians, Kendra has found her stride. Her playing now has great confidence, an admirable combination of a relaxed feel with fiery fiddling, and a wonderful swing to it, no doubt the result of competing in highland dancing for much of her life. The 13 tracks are a nicely varied mix of instrumentals-- jigs, strathspeys, and reels plus some excellent marches, airs, and a waltz. A few tunes were written by Kendra or her brother Troy, who plays piano on the CD. Also on the CD are Dave MacIsaac (guitar) on most tunes, John Chaisson on bass, Scott Ferguson on percussion, and the sound of Kendra's sister Sabra step-dancing. (Highly recommended
 (timeline) Wendy MacIsaac - Timeline (2003) Wendy is a truly spectacular fiddler, and the favorite of many Cape Bretoners. I certainly understand why; she is a terrific fiddler and a wonderful person. Finally, Wendy's 3rd album does her fiddling justice. Joined by guitarist Dave MacIsaac, Stephanie Wills and Jackie Dunn MacIsaac, pianist Tracey Dares, Ryan MacNeil, Howie MacDonald, and others. The CD has some lovely personal touches and great liner notes. 63 minutes of some of the best Cape Breton fiddling you will ever hear.
We have been lucky to hear Wendy in the S.F. Bay Area as part of Mary Jane Lamond's band and as part of the Cape Breton group Beolach. She is great with them, but the Timeline CD takes it to another level altogether. (Very highly recommended)
    I am less fond of Wendy's earlier CDs --That's What You Get (1996) and The Reel Thing (1994). Her playing, and particularly her recordings have come a long way since then. Click here for a nice biographical sketch of Wendy.

(Some Tasty Tunes)

(In Jig Time album cover)

Brenda Stubbert - Some Tasty Tunes (1999, Brenda Stubbert) Stubbert is better known in Europe where she has toured extensively, She is a prolific and highly respected writer, whose tunes are played by nearly everyone. The self-effacing nature of this production masks some mighty playing. If Cape Breton music is about getting people to tap their feet and the dancers up on the floor, no one can do it better than Brenda. Just try and sit still while listening to this CD. Brenda is accompanied by Maybelle Chisholm MacQueen on piano, Brian Doyle on guitar, and Richard Burke on synthesizer.
Also recommended is Stubbert's 2d CD In Jig Time (Celestial Entertainment CECD001, 1997). This album will not let you sit still. If you need a straight shot of passionate, hard-charging traditional Cape Breton fiddling, this album will fill the bill. She is very ably assisted on this album by Jackie Dunn on piano and Gordie Sampson on acoustic guitar. There is also a duet with Jerry Holland and some lovely piping by Bruce MacPhee on scottish small pipes.

Non-Touring Gems:

(Tradition Continued) Stephanie Wills-Tradition Continued [tape only, self-published-- Box 5, Creignish, RR#1, Port Hastings, NS B0E 2T0, Canada,  or through mail order stores]. This tape by a young, self-effacing fiddle teacher was my best discovery of Celtic Colours 98. Not well known outside Cape Breton, she has enormous respect among the musicians there. Stephanie's fiddling captures the older Cape Breton sound as well as, if not better, than most of the other young fiddlers, and she plays brilliantly. I found this album riveting and kept playing it over and over and over again to the great pleasure of the passengers in my car as I was driving around Cape Breton. Very highly recommended.
(the dance last night) Howie MacDonald - is one of the most beloved fiddlers in Cape Breton for both his winning personality and his fine fiddling. Exposed to millions as a fiddler with The Rankin Family (alternating on fiddle and piano with John Morris Rankin), Howie also has some fine "solo" albums. The dance last night is a whimsical journey that has Howie playing 8 instruments and doing the voices of several local characters on the drive to the dance, the music, the dancing, the fight, the drunken dancers leaving...In an amusing way, it puts the music back in the context in which it is generally played and heard.
  WHY2KEILIDH (1999 self-produced) picks up where The dance last night left off. Seems like the boys didn't go straight home to sleep, but ended up at a post-dance house party. This all has to be kept secret from various bosses and acquaintances which is tricky given the party line on the phone. Howie has his loving finger on the foibles of our dysfunctional friends. The musical arrangements are under no better control than the neighbors, and trad artists like J.P. Cormier and Gordie Sampson are sitting on the couch playing trad tunes on electric guitars to arrangements that the Spice Girls might use... J.P. ripping through some strathspeys and reels on banjo...Sets titled "Old Scotty Stuff" out, the dancers are getting their second wind... It's parties like this that give the Cape Bretoners their reputation. Howie's answer to the Why 2 Keilidh question is simple --it's irresistible fun. This CD is not for straight-laced traditional music purists, though there is plenty of traditional music on this CD, but a fun romp through some tunes from some very fine musicians--that is if you don't hurt youself laughing too hard. (Highly Recommended)
(Why2Keilidh Cover)
(From the Archives) Dave MacIsaac - From the Archives (1999, Dave MacIsaac, Pickin' Productions) Dave's guitar mastery is well known, but less well known is his extraordinary skill as a fiddler. Dave has a wild, wailing fiddle sound comparable in my experience only to Alex Francis Mackay. As the Irish would say, this is "the pure drop". This is the music Dave grew up listening to played by the legends of Cape Breton fiddling, and he listened very well indeed. Joining him is Mary Jessie MacDonald, a pianist who was present at many of memorable sessions. If you are looking for an authentic, traditional, Gaelic sound, this is a CD you must buy. E-mail: (Very highly recommended)
(Lighthouse) Paul Cranford and Friends - The Lighthouse (1997 Cranford Publications) Cranford is a lighthousekeeper, an occupation that gives him time and inspiration to compose a large wave of new tunes. You may not have heard Paul play (and he is a wonderful fiddler with a lots of swing and an old-style sound), but you certainly will have heard his tunes since everyone else plays them. And this wonderful CD has 50 Cranford tune on it (plus 7 others that snuck in), and they are wonderful. The tradition is alive and well when new tunes like this are being written. (Highly recommended)
(A Miner cover) Dougie MacDonald -- A Miner -- Music from Cape Breton Island (1998) The title of this album is a play on words since Dougie created many of these tunes while working as a hard rock miner. That a fiddler this amazingly good would only now be recording his debut CD says much about the incredible depth of fiddling talent on Cape Breton. The locals have been praising Dougie's playing for awhile, but I didn't hear him until October 98 where he was selected as the final fiddler in a tribute to Alex Francis MacKay, and I quickly understood what the fuss was about. This all instrumental album is mainly traditional, although Dougie uses electric guitar and bass backing on a couple of very contemporary tunes. Dougie is a prodigious talent and this album shows it off well. The respect his fiddling is held in on Cape Breton is revealed in part by the accompanists which include Jerry Holland, J.P. Cormier and Tracey Dares. But Dougie definitely holds his own among this crowd.. Highly recommended.
(Saturday Night Lively) Kinnon and Betty Beaton - Saturday Night Lively (self-published, 1998). Kinnon (fiddle) and Betty (piano) are not well known outside Cape Breton, but they pack them in to the dance halls there. This is music first and foremost for dancers, and lively indeed. As such, it doesn't have the flash of numbers designed for concert halls. But, it has a lovely swing to it, and fine playing that reflects the a relaxed confidence that its about the music not the players. In Cape Breton, where the dancers have their choice of an incredible number of fine fiddlers and pianists, this couple are among the most popular.
(Loch Ban) Morgan MacQuarrie - Loch Ban (2001, self published). I find this to be a solid "meat and potatoes" kind of CD. Not a lot of flash, but very satisfying, and an album that will age well over many playings. Morgan was heavily influenced by the fiddler Joe MacLean. Most of this is fiddle and piano, but it the CD is enhanced by the stepdancing of _________. If you like this, you might try to get his 1997 cassette Kenloch Ceilidh.

Dwayne Côté  - A Compilation - Limited Edition (self-published 2007)  At long last Dwayne has a CD available to purchase (His avid fans have been clamoring for such for over a decade.)  Dwayne has a style that is fairly unique in Cape Breton, heavily influenced by a large amount of classical training he has received. As a result, he can perform various ornaments quickly and precisely in a way that greatly impresses other fiddlers. Because of his training and involvement with jazz, classical and other genres, Wayne's sound is much more eclectic than most Cape Breton fiddlers. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes. There is certainly a lot of virtuoso playing on this CD, and he does have a beautiful sound. Personally, I am a fan of the more rough-hewn playing of fiddlers like Ian MacDougall, but for those transitioning from listening to classical music, this is a CD you might find very accessible. Unfortunately, this CD contains only 31 minutes of tunes and almost no liner notes. Hopefully, we won't have to wait so long for Dwayne's next CD!

Melody and Derrick Cameron are yet another set of excellent musicians from Mabou, Cape Breton Island.  Their performances offer traditional violin and step dance by Melody Cameron with celtic guitar accompaniment and storytelling by Derrick Cameron.  Derrick Cameron and Melody Cameron are the founders of the Celtic group, Triskele.  Triskele performances include Cape Breton style fiddle by Calum MacKenzie, piano accompaniment by Joel Chiasson and the singing of traditional Gaelic songs and puirt a beul by Colin Watson.   Triskele shows have occasionally featured performances by  singer/songwriter, Lisa Cameron or singer/guitarist Matthew MacLennan.  Melody and Derrick and Triskele have played many venues around Nova Scotia and beyond including Celtic Colours International Festival events.  I have their 1st CD, Looking Forward, Looking Back which features some excellent fiddling and step dancing by Melody as well as some Gaelic songs.

  Cape Breton Fiddlers' Association
(Traditionally Rockin)
Glenn Graham and Rodney MacDonald - Traditionally Rockin These two young cousins from western Cape Breton know how "to put the dancers on the floor". They come from one of the most musically rich families in Cape Breton and they can play traditional dancing music with the best of them. On this album they throw in some slight jazz and rock elements to attract a larger audience. But it is when they are pounding out the traditional reels and jigs that they are at their best and this album rocks. Cape Bretoners vote with their feet, and recently elected Rodney to the provincial legislature where he immediately became minister of culture.
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) (more here)
(Step Outside) Glen Graham - Step Outside (Bowbeat Music 2000). I really like this album, so much so that after wearing out the tape, I bought the CD. It is exciting, got some very nice singing from Glen and his sister Amy (who reminds me of S.F. local Shana Morrison), lots of variety, and some truly wicked fiddling. Amy and Glen are joined by some of the best of young Cape Breton musicians - Mac Morin on piano, Patrick Gillis on guitar, Gordie Sampson on guitar, with appearances by Howie Macdonald and Joel Chiasson. These folks know how to generate energy! Some nice tune and song-writing from Glen too. One song has a lot of programming - a warning to the purists- but this is the exception. However, the eclecticism of this album, rather than being a weakness, is a real strength. Most folks like various music styles; the Grahams are no different, but Glen's command of traditional music is so deep and natural, it all works. This is real music from real folks, and it rocks. (Highly recommended)

The next generation, and boy (or girl) can they ever play!

(Heart Behind the Bow) Kimberley Fraser -- Heart Behind the Bow (self-published, available from mail order outlets). This shy, little left-handed fiddler from Sydney Mines was picked to open the 2000 Celtic Colours Festival (with me in row 4 having heard how good she is). Dressed in dungarees, and swaying gently to the music with Tracy Dares on piano, and techies wandering around behind setting up the next act, Kimberley wowed the crowd. Her talent is well reflected in her superb debut CD. Ignore the fact Kimberley was only 17 when it was made; the playing on this CD is magnificent -- Heart Behind the Bow can stand comfortably next to the best in Cape Breton fiddling. Kimberley has a fairly old-fashioned and complex sound, reminding me of Stephanie Wills. She has superb tone, great lift and drive, and great tune combinations. Backup on this CD is provided by the likes of Tracey Dares, Gordie Sampson, Troy MacGillivray, Ed Woodsworth and Matt Foulds. Particularly notable is Kimberley's playing on two beautiful slow airs - "Killicrakie" and "The Bonnie Lass of Headlake "- w/ Sheamus MacNeil on piano. To top things off, Kimberley also does a sparkling and nimble piano solo on a hornpipe/reel combination. And to keep you on your toes, Kimberley throws in a ripping Oldtime Country version of a couple of tunes including The Orange Blossom Special. (Not on the CD is her step dancing and she has a reputation as a wicked step-dancer!) All in all, the CD is a marvelous piece of work. (Very highly recommended)
(First Hand) Mairi Rankin - First Hand (self-published, 2001). Mairi (pronounced "Maddy") is one of the very brightest young stars of Cape Breton fiddling. In my last 4 years at the Celtic Colours Festival, it has been Mairi's playing, often at 4 in the morning, and sometimes following Natalie, that has roused crowds to their feet for dancing, and huge ovations. Mairi has tremendous skill as a fiddler, but it is the naturalness of her playing that causes her to stand out. This debut CD, all instrumental, does not disappoint. It includes 10 excellent studio recordings. However, it is in the two live tracks recorded at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, Cape Breton that show how much excitement Mairi's playing can generate in a live setting; they are simply magnificent. Having seen Mairi play at the Red Shoe, I can picture her, relaxed, smiling at friends, notes firing off her fiddle with ease and passion, other musicians step-dancing up a storm, and another memorable evening in Mabou. Her red hair, infectious enthusiasm, great smile, and stomping foot are one of the wonders of the Cape Breton music scene. The folks in Mabou know music, and in Mairi they have an extraordinary young woman of grace and phenomenal excitement as a fiddler. Keep your eyes on her, because she is special.  
 If you are lucky, you may have caught Mairi (and Wendy MacIsaac) touring Northern California as part of the Cape Breton group Beolach in ther summer of 2003. (Very highly recommended)
 (from Foot Cape)

 Ian MacDougall - Before You Arrived. (with Mac Morin) (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.  Before You Arrived contrasts with much of the light-weight "celtic" music that one hears as a good pint of Guinness contrasts  to Coors Lite. This is the righteous playing that makes me so love Cape Breton music. (Very highly recommended)   See also my review of Ian's excellent debut CD: From Foot Cape (self-published 2003).

Dawn and Margie Beaton - Taste of Gaelic (2008) Dawn and Margie, part of the wave of extended Beaton family fiddlers coming out of Mabou, were the winners of the 2008 Celtic Colours Drive'er Association award which recognizes young talent and helps finance and record their debut CD. Both Dawn & Margie are expert fiddlers totally steeped in the Cape Breton tradition  Margie also plays piano on several tracks and Dawn banjo and mandolin.. Their playing differs from most Cape Breton CDs in featuring two fiddles. There playing should appeal to traditional dancers with its steady rythyms and plenty of drive. They are joined on various tracks by friends Tracy Darees and Jason Roach on piano, Kenneth MacKenzie on a lovely version of the Sir James as a slow strathspey, Sandy MacDonald on guitar, and Mary Janet MacDonald stepdancing on "Mary Janet's Fancy". The group really goes to town on the last set of strathspeys and reels -"Saved by the Milkman", a rousing Cape Breton number that will have you up and dancing around the room. There is a LOT of music on this CD - 64 minutes. The CD was nominated in 2010 for a East Coast Music Award in the Roots Traditional Group of the Year category. If you can't get down to The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou (video of them playing at the Red Shoe on thier website) or the dance hall across the street, this is a good substitute.. (another, more informed review by Dan MacDonald)

  Brent Aucoin

Rachel Davis - Rachel Davis (self-published 2009).  (Facebook with music samples) I first heard  Rachel fiddle at the Celtic Colours Festival in 2006 at 2 in the morning. I stopped in mid-conversation, thinking "who is that very young girl who clearly gets it and has the skill to play it?"   She fired up the exhausted audience who knew good music when they hard it. Well, two years have passed, and Rachel has just released her first CD. And an impressive debut it is.  Most importantly, Rachel's playing has the drive and lift that I associate with the best Cape Breton playing, and that I find lacking too often in non-Cape Bretoners playing the same tunes. As very pleasant surprises, Rachel even includes the J. Scott Skinner air "Hector the Hero" which I had thought I had way too many times until I heard Rachel's and Tracy's lovely version, surprising in that I find few Cape Breton fiddlers capable of drawing out all the emotion of airs.  We also get Rachel singing a  lovely Gaelic song in which she gets her mom and grandmother to join her on the choruses. Rachel has a lovely voice, so I hope she will continue singing. Rachel is joined by Tracey Dares-MacNeil on piano and Buddy MacDonald on guitar and various others -- an indication that Rachel's playing attracts other great CB talents.  (Hightly Recommended)

Chrissy Crowley - Chrissy Crowley (Offshore Gael Music Production, 2007). Chrissy is from the Margaree area in Cape Breton, and at the time of this her debut album was 17 years old. Her grandfathers were Newfoundland fiddler Bill Crowley and Cape Breton fiddler Archie Neil Chisholm. Largely self-taught, albeit in an environment surrounded by excellent traditional fiddlers, Chrissy's playing embraces both her Cape Breton and Newfoundland roots and reflects the Irish and Acadian influences from Newfoundland and her area. She is very ably assisted on this CD by some of the best Cape Breton musicians including Troy MacGillivray nad Ryan MacNeil on Piano, and Gordie Sampson, Patty Gillis, Brian Doyle, Tim Chaisson and Pius MacIsaac on guitar on various tracks. What Crissy has accomplished musically so far in her young life is impressive. Add to this a charming personality and her obvious love of this music and you have a combination that has caused Chrissy to be in great and increasing demand at festivals. I first met her at the 2007 Celtic Colours Festival where she was a featured performer at a concert in honor of Archie Neil Chisholm. In 2007, Chrissy Crowley was nominated for the "Young Performer of the Year Award" by the Canadian Folk Music Awards.With this much talent and enthusiasm, we have a lot to look forwrd to in the future from Chrissy. You go girl!  (Recommended)  

Lisa McArthur - Lisa McArthur (Odyssey Records 2005) Originally from a musical family in Codroy Valley Newfoundland, for the last ten years or so Lisa has made Cape Breton her home. and now her musical style is definitely Cape Breton. Her debut CD is a delightful mix of old and new, Cape Breton, Irish and Scottish tunes. Lots of variety between listening and dance music. I've seen Lisa play many times at the Festival Club duriing Celtic Colours and she is always a great crowd pleaser with her fine playing.

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