Bonnie Rideout Scottish Reflections

cover, Scottish ReflectionsBonnie Rideout is a fiddle player with a hugely impressive pedigree. She initially trained in Michigan as a classical orchestral player of both violin and viola, before embarking on a musical and cultural exploration of her Scots ancestry. She has lived and worked in Scotland, where she studied and absorbed a variety of traditional fiddling styles. Since her return to the U.S. (she currently resides in Virginia), Rideout has been named “U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion” three times, and is a familiar face at Celtic music festivals as both a performer and adjudicator.

This CD is a brilliantly conceived compilation that draws together fourteen tracks selected from Rideout’s collaborations with other artists on the Maggie’s Music label. Consequently, Rideout fans who’ve already bought all of her solo albums won’t find themselves paying out for material which they already own, but will probably be tempted to investigate her label-mates albums too! Maggie’s Music is the “labour of love” brainchild of (hammered dulcimer player) Maggie Sansone, who runs the operation from Maryland. The label has been acclaimed as a pioneer of “chamber folk music,” and it’s an appropriate description for much of this collection.

Rideout’s particular forte is the performance of the slow laments and song airs which comprise the majority of the music on Scottish Reflections. Her exquisite tone and wonderfully controlled bowing (legacies of her classical training?), combined with her emotional empathy for these tunes, has resulted in some wonderful recordings. Titles such as “Lamentation for the Fallen Heroes of Waterloo” and “Gloomy Winter” don’t immediately suggest a “reel around the kitchen” type of album, but there’s an almost overwhelming beauty to be found in the melancholia of this music. Having said that, this isn’t an entirely “downbeat” album, as Rideout can “swing-out” on a strathspey or march with the very best of ’em. Plenty of thought has gone into the sequencing of this album, so that, for instance, it throws up a sprightly delight in “The Highland Laddie” followed by “The Highland Laddie: variations,” which finds Rideout exploring the same melody as a slow air in the company of an early music ensemble.

Being previously unfamiliar with Rideout’s work, I’ll confess that the presence of the word “Reflections” in the CD title aroused the suspicion that I might be dealing with one of those dreaded “New-Age Celto-Waffle” CD’s which the proprietors of “Mystical” book stores seem so keen to fob the punters off with. Thankfully, I was way off the mark, as Rideout (and, indeed, all the other artists on show here), innovatively approach this music with the utmost integrity. (Note: It transpires that Maggie’s Music do actually produce CD’s for the enhancement of yoga, meditation etc. Given the quality of the music here, your faithful scribe is undergoing a period of growth and reassessment of his musical prejudices!)

I’ve mentioned “the other musicians” several times but not named them, so it’s time to put that right. After all, while this album is credited to Bonnie Rideout, it’s from others’ albums that these tracks are sourced. Sue Richards is one of the few names that I’d previously encountered, and her Celtic harp is a delight on six tracks. The aforementioned “early music ensemble” are Hesperus, who bring instruments such as viola de gamba, Gothic harp and theorbo-lute to the mix, along with a real flair for engagingly intricate arrangement. Maggie Sansone’s hammered dulcimer makes a few welcome appearances, and there are notable performances from Paul Oorts (accordion), Karen Ashbrook (flute), William Taylor (harp) and Paula Glendenning (Highland bagpipes).

My initial (and enduring) impression of this CD is that it’s the work of dedicated and passionate people whose primary motivation is the creation of beauty, rather than profit. That impression is reinforced by the following extract from Mairead Sullivan’s Celtic Women in Music, where Rideout states: “I have a famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson pasted to the inside of my fiddle case which I read every day: ‘To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because I have lived. This is to have succeeded.'”

Speaking as someone who endeavours to be an “honest critic,” I’ll recommend this album unhesitatingly, and play it often (it’s gone straight into my mental “Sunday morning listening list” ). I’ll also encourage you to support the continuing success of Maggie’s Music by taking the time to visit their well designed Web site. In addition to the usual artist biographies, tour dates, and CD sales, they have a “Celtic Marketplace” where you can buy music books, tin whistles and cook books! They also produce “Maggie’s Music” T-shirts designed by Celtic artist Ben Crenshaw. (I’m an M/L person, I like green and purple, and my birthday’s in March, if anyone who knows me is reading this.)

(Maggie’s Music, 2002)

We’ve also reviewed Bonnie Rideout’s Celtic Circles, and Jo Morrison’s A Waulking Tour of Scotland and The Three Musics, on which Bonnie appears.