Friday, March 10, 2017


Fiddle tunes are put into "sets", usually three melodies combined to make under a musical theme, creating a new song out of older ones. Here's a Celtic album that takes that a step further, creating a whole collection around a theme, one big work made up of everything from traditional tunes to modern country hits. Sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald are from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and have put together this album based around songs featuring that old favourite, the willow tree. Willow trees have shown up in all sorts of folk stories through the ages, mostly because they do that thing that features so prominently in everything from love poems to murder ballads; they weep.

Cassie is the fiddler here, Maggie is the guitar player and lead singer, and the other main player is the co-producer and song-spinner of acclaim, Dave Gunning. With his multi-instrument abilities, that's a lot of talent at work. And it turns out the willow does a lot more than weep. The MacDonalds, good scholars that they are, did a lot of digging into the traditions and symbolism of willows in song, especially the bending and surviving skills. And since the willow has been used by lots of different bloodlines, you can find it several folk traditions, so it's a highly interesting mix of music here. It's a Celtic album with vocals, and lots of flavours from other genres, such as bluegrass touches and Appalachian accents. The traditional Let No Man Steal Your Thyme has a contemporary beat behind, and is spiced up with guest Andrew Sneddon's dobro.

It's also quite cool to hear their mash-up The Willow Hits, which combines Johnny Cash's Big River ("I taught the weeping willow how to cry, cry, cry"), Bury Me Beneath the Willow Tree, and even Walkin' After Midnight (remember Patsy Cline singing "I see the weepin' willow cryin' on its pillow"?). Maggie has the right Carter Family twang when needed, and this is a really entertaining and imaginative release. You can see album launch shows this weekend, Saturday night in Moncton at the Empress Theatre at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Mar. 12 in LaHave, N.S. at the West Dublin Hall.

1 comment:

  1. An unmusical comment, if I may, on a very satisfying album: the jewel box is the most ergonomic, eco-friendly and tactile one I've ever seen. Or felt.