Natalie MacMaster has effectively moved from the kitchen to the concert hall without missing a beat on her latest CD Blueprint. This collection of tunes is big in a lot of ways. It is big in sound, with a depth of tone that captures the essence of all of the instruments used (and believe me, she uses the entire range available to her). It is also a big step for the girl from Canada’s east coast to the world stage. She certainly has prepared herself well and is obviously ready to take her place at centre stage.
She has some big names in the music business on this disc as well. Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Bryan Sutton are all over this recording. Needless to say, the playing is fantastic throughout, and Natalie holds her own with them all. This is a band made in heaven, by anyone’s standards.
The mark of these superb players is evident in the arrangements. Never have such simple tunes sounded so sophisticated. Stops, starts, tempo changes are all integrated perfectly to elevate this music to another level. The tracks on this CD are not really songs, but sets of songs, many of them traditional. They are blended seamlessly with MacMaster’s own and other new tunes.
The only thing I don’t really like about this album is its pace; yet when I say that, I feel like the character in the film Amadeus, who said, when searching desperately for some criticism of Mozarts work, “too many notes.” Almost every song takes off at breakneck speed. From the opening notes of the first cut, “A Blast,” the album never really allows the listener to catch his or her breath. The opening track is a set of three strathspeys (or dances) and a reel. The tempo grows progressively faster until the end of the set. That’s the time I would retire from the dance floor and let my legs recover, but it is not to be. The next tune “Appropriate Dipstick” starts and is a nice slow number – for about the first thirty seconds. Then it takes off like a bullet! The third song “Jig Party” doesn’t let up at all, either. The fourth song actually features the human voice of John Cowan struggling to keep up with the musicians. “Touch of the Master’s Hand” is the least traditional song on this album. It reminds me of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels.
In the end, all my searching did not really find anything to complain about on this album. At least my legs will be in better shape from tapping my feet! For fans of traditional East Coast fiddle music, I highly recommend it.