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Tracey Dares and Paul MacNeil - “” - GRIP102

This has to be one of the most ingenious - and entertaining - ways of advertising a website! Piping wizard Paul MacNeil and keyboards enchantress Tracey Dares are a husband and wife team from Cape Breton who have recently set up a very impressive website and produced an equally impressive CD with the same name. They're joined by two of Cape Breton's most respected guitarists Gordie Sampson and Dave MacIsaac, and by a whole host of musicians and singers from the MacNeil clan.

At just over 65 minutes, this recording is much longer than most adverts. A baker's dozen tracks covers the whole gamut of Cape Breton music, from driving pipe and fiddle tunes to Gaelic songs and moving laments. Much of the material is traditional, but there's a large helping of contemporary Cape Breton compositions including many by fiddler Brenda Stubbert and a handful of Paul and Tracey's own tunes.

One of the great things about the Cape Breton style is that it's intended for dancing. The tunes are catchy, the rhythms are irresistible, and the accompaniment is livelier than an open pub on Good Friday. With such top-class backing, anyone would sound good: Paul MacNeil sounds fantastic. One of Cape Breton's foremost pipers, he can wring the best out of old and new tunes alike. His slow jig The Barra Glen Road is a beauty, and is only one of eight excellent sets of up-front dance tunes. The Fat Free Reels set is another highlight.

Tracey Dares isn't the sort of pianist to stay in the background either. This is the woman we saw on RTE's The Pure Drop, step-dancing while she played piano to accompany Natalie MacMaster: quite a sight. If you want to hear what a piano can do with Cape Breton music, listen to track 2, a medley of mainly Brenda Stubbert tunes, and hear those ivories catch fire.

As if that wasn't enough, there's a whole spread of slower tracks. Most of them are arranged around Tracey's prodigious piano, but the pipes have their mellow moments too: check out Alex's Last Dance, not written for me but none the worse for that. For added variety, there's even a Gaelic work song with pipe and piano breaks.

Full marks to Paul and Tracey for a recording that's long on quality and on quantity. Best of all, it's available worldwide: just point your browser at to see the delights Cape Breton music can offer.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 46 of The Living Tradition magazine.