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Celtic Colours XIV

Odyssey Records  ORCD1063

I hadn't realised that this wonderful Cape Breton Autumn festival was in its 14th year. It's gone from strength to strength, and now embraces a very wide range of music. Not that the quality has diminished: if anything, Celtic Colours is now able to dip its bucket in a deeper well of world class musicians. This collection offers a great snapshot of the current Canadian scene, along with some old favourites and a bunch of new names. Well over the hour, and just shy of a score of tracks, there's quantity as well as quality here.
First up, a microcosm of Celtic Colours, is The Outside Track: two Canadians (one from each edge), two Scots and half an Irishman, they're in instrumental mode here with a mixture of old and new strathspeys and reels. After that, vocals alternate with tunes although the latter takes the lion's share - hardly surprising in this heartland of fiddlers. The prodigious talents of Rachel Davis, Kenneth MacKenzie and Melody Cameron are ample proof of the vibrant Cape Breton string-scraping culture, and Buddy MacMaster is joined by his almost equally famous niece Natalie for one of three big finale tracks. Canada contributes some fine singers too: Jeff MacDonald and Buddy MacDonald in the guitar vocalist genre, Lewis MacKinnon and Meantime with classic Gaelic ballads, Madison Violet in a more American style, and the terribly named De Temps Antan bringing the brilliance of their Quebec song medleys to brighten the Nova Scotian nights.

Whether it's music, rugby, economics or alcohol, you can't ignore the Irish these days. Some of my favourites have popped up on this CD: Niamh Ní Charra with a wondrous set of Kerry tunes on concertina, Nuala Kennedy combining vocals with her fabulous fluting, John Doyle sticking to tunes on guitar (with McCusker's fiddle and McGoldrick's whistle), young guns Liam O'Connor and Sean McKeon kicking up the dust on pipes and fiddle, and four highly respectable Donegal ladies singing beautiful Gaelic harmonies under the soubriquet "T with the Maggies".

The Scots are hiding in there too: Tony McManus with a jig and a reel on solo guitar, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas combining fiddle and cello for a fabulous frolic through two Fraser compositions, and adopted Skyeman Angus MacKenzie joining his brother Kenneth on pipes. Most of the tracks here come from recent or nascent CDs, but some are not easy to find outside Canada: a prime example is the final track, Joli Coeur by phenomenal fun band Vishtèn hailing from PEI (look it up) and Quebec but playing from Acadia. As a taster of exotic delights, this compilation is a total success. As an advert for Celtic Colours, it couldn't be much more enticing. As traditional entertainment pure and simple, you'd be hard pushed to find a better collection this year.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.