Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Scotland & Cape Breton: tradition and innovation

The Scottish band Old Blind Dogs and Cape Breton fiddle player Rachel Davis both have gifts for innovating while reaming true to tradition.

The Dogs’ new album, Wherever Yet May Be, takes its title from a line in the song Scotland Yet, written by Davey Steele. It is, as singer Aaron Jones writes in the liner notes, as relevant still today as the day it was written, a rousing and thought provoking song about the present, the past, and the future -- of Scotland, and other places too.

The Dogs have been a band for nearly two decades now. The newest member joining for this recording is piper and composer Ali Hutton, who has a stellar background of working with Back of the Moon and other musicians. There are several tunes he’s written in this collection, as well as tunes by rising Scottish star Mattheu Watson, groundbreaking piper Gordon Duncan, and top composer and piper Fred Morrison. There’s a fine helping of tradition as well, both of the tune and song variety, including Loch Erne’s Shore, St. Kilda, and the American folk song Copper Kettle. Jones, who also plays guitar and bouzouki, trades off on lead singing with fiddler Jonny Hardie, Hutton is on pipes, whistles, and guitar, and Fraser Stone handles percussion. It’s a well thought out, well played and sung collection which finds the band standing within Scottish tradition while moving it along as well.

The same is true of Cape Breton fiddle player and singer Rachel Davis. Though still at university, she’s no novice on the fiddle, and raised in Baddeck on Cape Breton, she’s been at the center of the island’s music most of her life. On her self titled debut album, she has a fine hand for interpreting tunes from Scotland and pieces from Cape Breton with grace and flair. In doing so, she shows a distinctive voice without saying a word. The one song, My Love Has Left the Harbour, which she sings in Gaelic, shows her to be a thoughtful and gifted singer as well, and the tunes she’s composed stand well in sets with distinguished company.
Davis lets her joy in music come through too, especially in a set where her guest is her grandfather, Clarence Long, who was her first fiddle teacher. She closes out the project in true Cape Breton fashion, by getting friends and family together to share a lively set of tunes. The Drive’ers, those dedicated, kind, and resourceful folk who, among other things drive artists all across the island during the Celtic Colours Festival, helped make this recording possible. It’s clear why Davis won their support.

you may also wish to see
Music Road: Music for St Andrew's Day: music of Scotland
Music Road: Emily Smith, Jamie McClennan, and Robert Burns
Music Road: Cape Breton music from a new generation: The Cottars

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous MarthaAndMe said...

These both sound wonderful.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Melanie Haiken said...

I saw Old Blind Dogs live about six years ago here in California and they were wonderful; lively, authentic and not at all pious in their interpretations of traditionals. So nice to see them covered! I'll have to check out Rachel Davis as well.

7:44 PM  

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