Mary Jane Lamond and her talented colleagues’ latest offering to the Gaelic traditions and folk lore of Cape Breton’s North Shore is a marvellous collection of milling songs, laments, reels and love airs. With text and tunes spanning more than three centuries, its success is largely due to the varied arrangements that surround Lamond’s warm, diction-delectable voice.
The CD’s house band (Geoff Arsenault, Chris Corrigan, Wendy MacIsaac and Ed Woodsworth) deliver first-rate support (“Òran Luaidh” is forever in debt to Woodsworth’s rhythmically inventive bass line) or creative leads as required (the “Maynard Street Reel,” MacIsaac’s “head chart” that opens the “Most Beautiful Brown-haired Maiden,” with its happily stuttering tune—a showstopper in its own right) ensure that there’s never a dull moment. Those not fluent in Gaelic will be transported to the meaning of the songs through the textures and colours in which they’ve been dressed.
The Blue Engine String Quartet brings Kronos-like depth (cross-reference below) to three tracks—notably “O Brown-haired Maiden of the Goats” where their subtle contributions reinforce the natural, misty imagery, leaving Lamond the freedom to bring home the lyrics’ meaning with panache.
Equally welcome is the four-member female chorus (Janet Buchanan, Tara Rankin, Michelle Smith and Bonnie Thompson) as they provide a sense of community to the love-starved heroine in “It Is my Love the MacDonald Man” or finish the proceedings (“My Plaid Is Under the Rain,” recorded at Wreck Cove)—an a capella closer where the five voices blend into an extra dose of humanity, urged on by the relentless stomp of their feet.
Quibbles arise in “Ball at Southwest Margaree.” The notion of a party without musicians is reinforced by the gradual addition of more musicians (Mac Morin’s piano is an unexpected delight), but the tempo seems a hair too quick, producing a breathless result that only finds its legs when “The Farmer’s Daughter” is launched, sending the reel party into heady overdrive.
The two laments bemoan loss of life: from war (“The Battle of Inverlochy"—1645) and drowning (“Lament for Angus”). In the former, Lamond starts truly solo, effectively underscoring the meaning of “It Is I who am lost.” Anne Bourne’s droning cello carefully prepares the way for Ryan MacNeil’s properly distant bagpipe interplay; only a wider dynamic range could improve the effect. In the latter, Lamond soars into the textual and emotional underpinnings of the narrative, her “ah” vowels a constant pleasure, once again Woodsworth keeps everything moving forward with exquisite taste and skill.
“A Gael Among Lowlanders,” with its subtext of the challenge of differing cultures and language is especially appropriate for the collection. This time it’s Arsenault’s brushes that push things along even as the instrumental interludes keep the stanzas away from the shoals of bland repetition.
Lamond’s vision and talent have been put to good effect in the crafting of this CD. Thanks goodness her many collaborators were equally adept in their roles. JWR