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Private Label CRM300

Now on at least her fourth album, Prince Edward Island's young fiddle queen is becoming more adventurous. Inside the glamorous packaging, Cynthia offers a musical melange from the traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Quebec and the USA, as well as some contemporary Canadian numbers. This selection was put together over a longish period, with many friends and guests involved on different tracks: I won't mention them all, but the core is the Chiasson boys and various members of the excellent PEI band Vishtèn. Although this is a fiddle album, the arrangements are a big part of the enjoyment here - guitars, piano, bass and drums, the classic Canadian line-up, are supplemented by accordion, banjo, sax, dobro and other stuff at times, providing a pleasing contrast between the sparseness of Gerard Fahy's lyrical waltz Dublin Airport and more full-on numbers such as Brucie And The Troopers.

There are six medleys of dance tunes on Riddle plus three slower instrumentals and four tracks with vocals. Washington Square Park is a silky slow slip reel which reminds me strongly of the song Never Tire Of The Road, bounded by the two branches of PEI tradition: Ryan MacNeil's pipe reel and a pair of Irish standards on one side, and the French fiddling frenzy of Growling Old Man on the other, complete with foot percussion, comedy voices and accordion from Mike Prendergast. This first vocal track is immediately followed by the serious song Red Sky, a collaboration between Miss MacLeod and Brian Gunning, and Cynthia's only composition here. The second half of this recording covers two well-known songs: a version of Devil Went Down To Georgia which shows the full extent of Cynthia's fiddle virtuosity, and a final big-band arrangement of the Blue Rodeo song Cynthia where the young lady in question doesn't actually play at all. On the tune side, the traditional jigs and reels are broken up by modern gems like Paul Cranford's Winning Ticket, the late great Jerry Holland's Vega Mandolin, Ward MacDonald's driving reel The Lion's Den, and even Dave Richardson's Calliope House played the right way up.

Highlights of this album for me include Jon Matthews' drumming on an unusual version of Lad Wi' The Plaidie, possibly the best percussion I've heard behind a strathspey, as well as Cynthia's combined piano and fiddle on a lovely Neil Gow lament, and a set of reels and jigs starting with the tune I call Father O'Flynn's which combines powerful Irish-style fiddling with rich deep notes on Emma LeBlanc's bodhrán. Several tracks also have a twist or kink: a radio intro, an ansafone message, background noises and the like, suggesting Cynthia may be following in Howie MacDonald's footsteps to combine comedy and caricature with Canadian fiddling. Whichever way she turns next, whether it's song-writing, stand-up, or just straight saw-edge fiddle, Cynthia MacLeod is one to watch. Hear her now at - the pictures are worth seeing too.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 89 of The Living Tradition magazine.