Cape Breton music from a new generation: The Cottars
Seeing musical tradition through the lens of the present, and hearing the present through the framework of tradition is a balancing act. The Cottars perform it with grace and spirit on their latest album, Feast.
Tradition in The Cottars’ case is that of Cape Breton, that island of Celtic culture and history in the far Atlantic north of Nova Scotia in Canada. Scotland is the base of Cape Breton music, kept strong over centuries and refreshed by encounters with the forested landscapes of Cape Breton Island and the traditions other emigrants, particularly those from Ireland, carried with them. All of this is present in the quartet’s work on this disc, in traditional tunes and songs, covers of songs smiths including Gordon Lightfoot and Glenn Yarbrough, and original music.
The current membership of the band comprises founding members Ciaran and Fiona MacGillivray, alongside newer members Claire Pettit and Bruce Timmins. All of them sing - their harmonies are one of the outstanding marks of their work -- while Ciaran focuses on keyboard instruments, Fiona on whistles and bodhran, Claire on fiddle and viola, and Bruce on guitars.
They open the album with Overture, a brief instrumental which succinctly evokes mountain and sea, present and past, and which they wrote together. In it are motifs which recur at various points through the music on the disc. There are twelve tracks in all, some single songs and some sets comprising several pieces. Mark Knopfler’s Fare Thee Well Northumberland paired with Petttit’s The Purple wave makes an especially strong set, as does the instrumental Munster Suite, the song Young Munro, and the closing piece, Oidche Mhath Leibh/Goodnight to You.
Though the band members are young in years, they have all been exploring Cape Breton tradition for quite a time. This latest confluence of talents and ideas makes a very strong showing here. suggesting that with The Cottars both tradition and innovation of Cape Breton music are in good hands.
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