Natalie MacMaster’s Fit As A Fiddle

cover art for Fit as a FiddleNaomi de Bruyn wrote this review.

Natalie is something of a well-known personage in Canada, being one of the most prominent fiddlers – perhaps the most famous woman fiddler – to ever come out of Cape Breton. Natalie grew up in an area where music is special and the old styles are valued, something which is sadly becoming more and more rare in the industrialized world we live in. When she was a young girl, Natalie began to play the fiddle, taking after her famous uncle Buddy MacMaster.

Natalie tours to an almost exhaustive schedule worldwide and has opened for Carlos Santana, as well as performed alongside the Chieftains in a New York City special concert that honoured Tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The Rankin Family has also joined Natalie at the mic a time or two. Summers find this indefatigable artist at the Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp in Nashville, where she is an instructor.

Natalie has also earned a number of awards in the music industry. She was recently named “Female Artist of the Year,” and won the “Roots/Traditional Solo Artist of the Year” awards at the 2000 East Coast Music Awards. Her latest release In My Hands won a Juno award for “Best Instrumental Album” in 2000. My Roots Are Showing won the same award for her in 1999. Natalie’s performance on the Juno Awards also won her a Gemini Award from the Canadian Academy of Motion Picture and Television. And she has won the “Best Fiddle Player” award for four years running from the Canadian Country Music Association, and there are countless other awards, far too numerous to be listed.

Fit as a Fiddle is Natalie’s first gold record, selling over 50,000 copies in Canada alone. It contains 13 tracks and a total of 44 tunes, the majority of which are traditional. However, there are original compositions from Jerry Holland, Charles Duff, G. Townsend, Charles F. Sherrit, Chris Romaine, Brendan Mulvihill, Dan MacDonald, Angus Allan Gillis, Bobby Macleod, Seamus Connolly, Phil Cunningham, Tommy Peoples, John Lowe, Maurice Lennon, and John MacKenzie. There are a large assortment of strathspeys, reels, and jigs, with a couple of airs, a march, a hornpipe, and a waltz added in. Natalie’s fiddling is incredible, no matter what style she is playing, and the entire disc is enjoyable.

If you like jigs, then the second track is one for you. This track includes, “My Dungannon Sweetheart,” “Scaffies Cairet,” and “Juniper Jig.” The first jig was learned from button accordion player Sharon Shannon from Galway. The second two were learned from Natalie’s Uncle Buddy and were composed by Charles Sherrit of Aberdeen, Scotland. It is a lively medley.

“Jean’s Reel” finds Natalie step-dancing as well as fiddling. According to the liner notes, this song by Isle of Mull composer Bobby MacLeod also was learned from the playing of Sharon Shannon. Also included on the disc is a wonderful slow air that Natalie learned from Eileen Ivers and Joanie Madden. Fiddle player and composer Maurice Lennon lives in Dublin and recorded this tune with his group, Stockton’s Wing. “If Ever You Were Mine” is a haunting and heart-rending piece.

Natalie MacMaster is one of the most talented folk violinists in Canada, and perhaps the world. If you like the fiddle, then this lady is a must for your collection. More on Natalie can be found at her website.

(Rounder, 1997)

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