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KENNETH & ANGUS MacKENZIE - Pìob Is Fidheall

KENNETH & ANGUS MacKENZIE - Pìob Is Fidheall
Private Label  MMRCD001

Fiddling and piping brothers Kenneth and Angus are from the Gaelic speaking community in the Mabou area of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Angus MacKenzie moved over to Scotland a few years back, and is well known as the piper with the group Dàimh. Kenneth stayed home in Canada, gaining a reputation as a fine fiddler on his most fiddler-rich native island. Now they've joined forces for an impressive duet album, backed by some of the best accompanists either side of the Atlantic.

The fiddle style of Cape Breton is very much based on dancing, step-dances and square-dances. This is the music on Pìob Is Fidheall, with Angus playing a very free and driving style on the pipes. It's what Cape Bretoners call "close to the floor", meaning it affects the dancers' feet. In Europe, we talk about "lift", the ability to keep the dancers light on their feet: when the MacKenzie brothers get going, they generate enough lift for a jumbo jet.

Plenty of familiar melodies from the Scottish and Cape Breton repertoires are supplemented by a surprising number of Irish tunes. Lisnagun by ace uilleann piper Brendan Ring, Mick O'Connor's by the celebrated London Irish banjo-player, Reel Of Rio and Over the Moor To Maggie: these are great fiddle tunes, but not so common on the Scottish pipes. Angus MacKenzie has earned a reputation for playing and setting such unexpected tunes, fitting the fiddle style onto the admittedly limited highland chanter, and on this recording he pulls off a few more feats of adaptation. He also gets composing credits for one of the most striking tunes here: Stormy Hill, a rattling good modal jig well worth learning.

There's so much good music on this CD, it's hard to know what to mention. One track which particularly impressed me was the pairing of O'er Bogie with Liz Carroll's Air Tune as sumptuous slow reels. This is an excellent example of the close-knit unison which Kenneth and Angus achieve, making it hard to distinguish between duets and solos. In fact, the only true solo here comes from the youngest MacKenzie brother, Calum, who tickles his way effortlessly through a demanding medley on the old Joanna: Laoidh Chalum Chille, Julia Delaney, Oogly Googly and The Bush Administration. Elsewhere the pipes and fiddle are unchallenged on Sandy McIntyre's Trip To Boston, Jerry's Pipe Jig, Pretty Marion, Katy Ness of Kinnyside, The Man With Three Thumbs, and the soulful air Moladh Maureen. The brothers end with a very spirited rendition of the grand old reel The Contradiction, a fitting finale to an outstanding album.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.