Friday, September 24, 2021

Now More Than Ever: The Katie McNally Trio

Playing traditional music -- whatever the tradition -- requires choices.

How much do you stay with what’s been handed down and taught? How do you bring your own ideas into the music you create?

Those are among the questions the musicians of The Katie McNally Trio navigate on their second album, Now More Than Ever. The core traditions in which they work are the musics of Scotland and Cape Breton.

The trio comprises McNally herself on fiddle, Neil Pearlman on piano, and Shauncey Ali on viola. McNally and Pearlman come from New England; Ali is based in Wisconsin..

They have each loved and learned and studied and played many aspects of Scottish traditional music, and spent time in Scotland as well as in that Celtic Heart of North America, Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.

Just from their geographies you may imagine that they bring distinct approaches to the music. Add in experiences including Latin jazz, Galician music, and bluegrass to name a few, and you’ll expect they have a wide range of musical choices when the three get together to play.

Scottish tradition is at the heart of what they do, though . A lively and creative heart it is.

The nine tracks on the album range from lively sets to quiet reflective tunes. There’s a good helping of originals from each member of the trio, as well as music from the tradition and pieces from contemporary traditional composers.

It’s a well sequenced project, with music rising and falling and taking turns and twists much as a conversation between friends does.

That is another thing at the heart of Now More Than Ever: musical connection, friendship and respect intertwined.

You will hear that in the fast flying interplay between McNally’s fiddle and Pearlman’s piano with dimension added by Ali’s viola on the opening set of the album, which comprises Fletch Taylor/Marcel Aucoin’s/Matthew Robinson’s, tunes composed by New England musician Flynn Cohen, the late Cape Breton master fiddler Jerry Holland, and Pearlman himself respectively.

It is well worth allowing the stories the tracks offer to unfold as the artists and producer Anna Massie have arranged them, as every track is a keeper. Two favorites I’ll point to, though:

John and Maurizio’s Wedding March, which McNally composed for her Uncle John and his husband Maurizio after they got married in Italy. The tune is paired here with Dr. MacInnes’s Fancy by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. It’d be easy to imagine couple having a stately walk/march down the aisle. following on with they and their guest doing some some lively stepping to the pipe major’s tune. McNally, Pearlman, and Ali sound as they are having a fine time playing both tunes, too.

The Acadia March set finds the trio in a reflective mood. The title track of the set, by McNally, came abut when she and Pearlman went hiking in the namesake national park in Maine. As it happened Neil had locked his keys in the car. While they waited for assistance, Katie wrote this tune to pass the time. They pair it with Neil’s Brunch Tune. Both allow the trio to show the graceful and quiet side of their playing.

“Now More Than Ever is very much a story of where we all come from and yet how far we’ve come,” McNally reflects.

The project was recorded in Scotland. There are no guests on the album, but the trio enlisted Anna Massie, whose work you will know from Blazin’ Fiddles and RANT, to produce. It was recorded by Angus Lyon (you will know him from Blazin’ Fiddles too) mixed by Iain Hutchinson, and mastered by Stuart Hamilton.

All that came about as travel restrictions came into effect, and that has also meant limitations on live performance. McNally reflects “With this album, we have grown in confidence to fully be ourselves, musically speaking.  

“The title of the album also reflects a communal feeling among us that we need to continue to collaborate with each other, make music and embark on projects that nourish us. As a band, and as members of the wider cultural community, we need to share our music and cultivate our artform in as many ways as possible during these difficult times.”

Times may indeed continue to be difficult. The recording Now More Than Ever from the Katie McNally Trio is bound to bring hints of joy, reflection, and connection into the times, though, much like a thoughtful conversation with good friends.

You may also wish to see
Katie McNally’s website
The Katie McNally Trio’s debut album The Boston States
Katie McNally’s album Flourish
Learn about Neil Pearlman’s duo album with Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson Burden Lake
Neil Pearlman’s album Coffee and the Mojo Hat
An album from Hanneke Cassel with whom Katie McNally studied (and whose music you have met often here along the Music Road) For Reasons Unseen
Learn about Farsan, another band of which Katie McNally and Neil Pearlman are part

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