Natalie MacMaster’s In My Hands combines big helpings of traditional fiddle with a variety of contemporary styles.
One of today’s new generation of modern Celtic fiddlers, which includes Ashley MacIsaac, Jerry Holland and Alisdair Fraser, MacMaster’s style is firmly footed in her Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, roots. But with MacMaster’s courage and talent to take fiddling to new places, In My Hands remains entertaining and interesting throughout.
Though 12 out of 14 tracks on this, her fifth album, are instrumentals, the two that do offer vocals are notable. On the opening track, “The Drunken Landlady,” MacMaster sings for the first time on record. The other voice on In My Hands comes from Alison Krauss, who sings “Get Me Through December.” In this melancholy folk/pop number, MacMaster’s fiddle provides background accompaniment.
MacMaster takes center stage on the rest of the CD, with a fiddle for every mood. On “Welcome to the Trossachs,” an undeniable Gaelic brogue comes through as the instrumental medley builds in energy and pace.
“Olympic Reel,” written by classical fiddler Mark O’Connor for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is reminiscent of a square dance, offering some swinging piano and electric guitar while maintaining the purity of an old-fashioned fiddle stomp.
“New York Jig” is a fiddle celebration that, for me, conjured up an image of MacMaster’s cascading long light-brown curls bouncing up and down as she dances barefoot with her fiddle across a dewy morning grass carpet. MacMaster sets another mood with “Space Ceilidh.” It features traditional fiddle passages at the start only to get amped up a bit and combine with a funky guitar, bass, keyboards and drums.
The CD ends with “Flora MacDonald,” a tribute to the 18th-century Scottish folk heroine.
As a fiddler, MacMaster clearly marches to the beat of her own creative drum.