Natalie MacMaster is well on the way to becoming the Alison Krauss of Cape Breton Island. By that I mean that she is taking the traditional music of her homeland and putting a slightly modern, NPR-friendly spin on it that makes it attractive to fans of all ages. It doesn’t hurt that she’s very pretty, and a spunky and energetic performer.
Yours Truly is her first release since the birth of a daughter, Mary Frances Leahy, to Nat and husband Donnell Leahy, who co-produced the album with Natalie. Mary Frances makes a brief vocal appearance in the final track, an instrumental over which Natalie thanks her fans and fellow-musicians.
This disc is a very nice example of the whole range of MacMaster’s music, from straight traditional Cape Breton to contemporary Celtic to some flat-out rock ‘n’ reel. She is joined by a cast of some of the biggest names in contemporary Celtic music, as well as some less well known musicians from Cape Breton with some very Nova Scotia names like Chiasson and MacIsaac.
I don’t think of myself as a strict traditionalist, but one of my favorite selections is a traditional medley on Track 8, with two strathspeys (“Money Musk” and “The Stormont Lads”) followed by three reels, “Sally Garden,” “Colonel McBain” and “Culfadda,” all but the last traditional. Maybe this one grabbed my ear especially because it’s just Nat on fiddle, Brad Davidge on guitar and Betty Lou Beaton on piano, just the way you’d hear it at a dance in any community hall on the cape. My other favorite is the lovely “Julia’s Waltz,” which features the Belarusian Alexander Sevastian of Quarteto Gelato on accordion and Natalie Haas on cello; very sweet, a little Paris, a little Petersburg, a little Cape Breton …
Elsewhere, she mixes it up a bit more. The opening “Volcanic Jig” starts things off with a quiet, tension-building intro laid down by Davidge on guitar and Rushad Eggleston’s cello before Natalie launches into the melody; by the time it finishes, after a pensive middle section, there are drums and bass guitar and hot electric guitar riffs on the fade-out. A set of two reels titled “NPG” has Matt MacIsaac on pipes for the traditional element and Denis Keldie on Hammond organ for a semi-sophisticated urban feel. “Matt & Nat’s” is a rousing rocker with MacIsaac again on electric pipes and Keldie playing a Moog synth.
“Farewell to Peter,” an elegy to the late Peter Jennings, ups the emotional ante. It sounds to me like a stately English country dance tune on just guitar, fiddle and cello.
“Cape Classico,” with just fiddle, piano, cello and banjo from Jens Krūger, would sound at home on a Flecktones record. And “Mother Nature” features the chant-singing of Canadian Tom Jackson, a well-known First Nations actor and musician from Saskatchewan. That last one is a little New-Agey for my taste, but I’ll take it over Track 7 “Danny Boy” with vocals by soft-rocker Michael McDonald. Natalie acquits herself very well indeed with her solo break on “Danny Boy,” though.
So whether you’re a traditionalist or prefer your Celtic music with some modern touches, Natalie MacMaster has put a little something for you on Yours Truly.