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Linus Entertainment 270431 

Natalie MacMaster first emerged from the fiddle haven of Cape Breton a sparkling firebrand of energy and beauty, her early recordings with piano as sole back up exhibited a wildness and enthusiasm and also a grace and charm that rendered them as delicious as they were unmissable. Now, having flirted with bands and family groups and family life, she takes time to make a new solo album, Sketches.

What comes along with the joie de vivre is a blast of maturity and insight that makes this collection so worthwhile. The massive medleys of yore are mostly banished, but some extended tracks allow for space and intensity to grow. Another welcome surprise is the choice of accompanists, and the presence of Tim Edey and Michael McGoldrick in the mix is advantageous. There are also some surprising developments here, including a fulsome rendition of an O’Carolan air, Planxty Hewlett, and a beautifully restrained take on I Can’t Make You Love Me, the latter a hit for Bonnie Raitt, also recorded by Mary Coughlan. Listening to it as an instrumental with just MacMaster and Edey is a tantalising experience and its unplanned arrival is all the more welcome as the unhurried nature of the playing unveils an extra poignancy, delicacy and lonesome fragility, often forgotten when heard as a song (watch for the cover versions).

Meanwhile, for the remainder of Sketches it’s a mix of Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton tunes, played with the customary exuberance and musical flair. The opening Three Reels sets the scene with blazing authority, while the hornpipe, The Golden Eagle, takes some surprising leftfield turns. Sketches has both beauty and beat in equal proportion, with tons of skill, audacity and guts in the performances of both Natalie MacMaster and her accompanists. Together they produce a work of immense skill, attitude and daring that is reflected in this successful creation.

John O’Regan


This review appeared in Issue 132 of The Living Tradition magazine