Buddy MacMaster’s Cape Breton Tradition

cover art for Cape Breton TraditionPat Simmonds wrote this review.

The Cape Breton Island fiddling tradition is getting quite the press coverage of late. Surely one of the last strongholds of traditional fiddling in North America, its popularity has been growing in leaps and bounds. Musicians from Scotland are looking to Cape Breton to find their roots; musicians from the Cape are finding work in Europe as awareness of the genre grows. Tucked away in the background, away from the spotlights that shine so brightly on some of the younger luminaries, are a handful of “elder statesmen” who have been playing this music all their lives with little or no recognition outside of a particular parish or townland. While obviously not as obscure as some, fiddler Buddy MacMaster certainly doesn’t accumulate the column inches in the same fashion as Ashley MacIssac or Buddy’s niece Natalie MacMaster. Who cares? It is generally acknowledged that Buddy is one of the great living repositories of Cape Breton traditional music.

This is a wonderful CD. Recorded in the relaxed environment of pianist Gordon MacLean’s living room, with daughter Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnis at the keyboard, it is an object lesson in how to bring dance music to the recorded environment and make it work. No flash, no overdubs, nothing that doesn’t belong where it is – great tone and a beautiful relaxed rhythm. The liner notes are compiled with care and attention to detail. Comments about the tunes are concise and appropriate but the bulk of the packaging contains a great autobiographical account of growing up in Cape Breton Island and the place that music holds in that society.

Typically the Cape Bretoner groups tunes in sets of ‘air-strathspey-jigs-reels’ or ‘march-jigs-reels’ and combinations thereof. Happy to say there are no surprises here. Fifteen sets comprised of around 61 tunes, most in the common repertoire – some not so common but all really well played and put together.

Buddy MacMaster is a living example of community spirit expressed through music and this CD comes very highly recommended.

(Rounder, 2003)

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