Nova Scotia native Natalie MacMaster first popped up on my musical radar when I heard "Get Me Through December", her collaboration with fellow fiddle player and Rounder artist Alison Krauss. I ended up buying In My Hands, the 1999 album from which that song came from and really enjoyed it. With that in mind, I decided to buy Yours Truly (2006), an album MacMaster released just after the birth of her first child, Mary Frances Leahy. I bought this album totally on a whim and had no idea what I was in for, other than MacMaster's masterful fiddle playing and perhaps the same eclectic style she demonstrated on In My Hands.
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Yours Truly runs for 53 minutes. As most of the tracks on this album are instrumentals, there are no printed lyrics included in the liner notes. There are, however, beautiful pictures of Natalie MacMaster and full personnel listings for each piece. Michael McDonald is a guest vocalist on "Danny Boy", one of my favorite songs to sing... especially when I'm a little tipsy.
Yours Truly begins with an energetic six minute romp called "Volcanic Jig". Natalie MacMaster wrote this piece, which is just brimming with energy and Celtic style. She plays the fiddle and is backed by Brad Davidge on guitar, John Chiasson on bass, Miche Pouliot on drums, Allan Dewar on piano, and Rushad Eggleston on cello. Out of all the supporting musicians, it's Eggleston I hear the most as the cello provides a deep string contrast to MacMaster's intricate fiddle playing. This is great for the morning.
"NPG" is a somber sounding piece arranged by Natalie MacMaster and including "The Sunday Reel" by Bruce Gandy and "The Old Ladywood Reel" (Traditional). I really like this track, which starts off sounding like it's going to be slow as Matt Mac Issac plays bagpipes. Suddenly, the piece erupts into something very exciting as MacMaster and Mac Issac play in perfect symmetry. John Chiasson's bass gives this piece a sturdy backbone.
"Flea As A Bird" is another MacMaster arrangement, this time incorporating "Flea as a Bird Clog", "Tribute to Stan Chapman Reel", "The Night We Had The Goats Reel" and "The Marquis of Tullybardine". I like this track for its jaunty mood. Natalie MacMaster plays the fiddle with dizzying accuracy and subtly jigs. Brad Davidge's guitar and John Chiasson's bass give this track a "plugged in" sound that make it almost seem like popular country. Allan Dewar's piano playing gets a chance to shine here, too.
"Farewell To Peter" is a track that was written and arranged by Natalie MacMaster in honor of the late Peter Jennings. Brad Davidge's gentle acoustic guitar begins this lovely instrumental that gives listeners a chance to catch their breaths after the frantic fiddle playing of the first three tracks. Rushad Eggleston's mellow cello playing is soothing against Natalie MacMaster's sweetly sensitive fiddle. Somehow, I think Peter Jennings would have appreciated this moving tribute to his memory.
"Matt & Nat's" is a cute title for a track that Natalie MacMaster and Matt Mac Issac wrote together. This track is very cool because it shows that Natalie MacMaster could have been a rock star. Her Celtic styled fiddle is backed Matt Mac Issac's electric pipes, Denis Keldie's mini moog, and stabbing electric guitars by Brad Davidge. This track has kind of a sci fi appeal to it, with space aged electronics collaborating with MacMaster's fiddle.
"David's Jig" is another high energy Natalie MacMaster creation. On this track, Natalie MacMaster shows that she's not just a fiddle player. She's also credited with step dancing on this. I like this track for its unconventional and complex sound, as well as Matt Mac Issac's amazing whistle playing.
Michael McDonald puts in a gentle performance of "Danny Boy", the one actual song on this album. He does an okay job, though I've heard other versions I've liked better than this one. His voice is so rich and distinctive, though, that it's hard not to recognize it from a distance. This song offers a little bit of a break from the very manic compositions that make up most of this album.
"Traditional Medley" consists of a string of traditional reels arranged by Natalie MacMaster. This track is a lot of fun to listen to and does indeed sound very traditional, with a notable lack of electric instruments. MacMaster's fiddle is backed by Brad Davidge's acoustic guitar and Betty Lou Beaton's piano.
"Cape Classico" was written and arranged by Natalie MacMaster and I immediately hear the sound of a banjo played by Jens Kruger. This track is very complex and interesting, with dramatic piano playing by Erin Leahy.
"Julia's Waltz" is another Natalie MacMaster composition. Alexander Sevastian leads off this track with a somber accordion introduction, followed by Brad Davidge's guitar and Natalie Haas on cello and finally MacMaster's fiddle. As each musician falls into the melody, I picture a young woman dancing to this graceful melody in waltz time. It's very pretty and shows that not all of Natalie MacMaster's fiddle creations are super energized.
"Mother Nature" is a track that practically percolates with the energy of world music. Tom Jackson plays drums and sings accents that sound inspired by Africa.
Yours Truly ends with "Interlude", a gentle farewell featuring Erin Leahy on piano, Natalie MacMaster on fiddle, and Mary Francis Leahy... Mary Francis Leahy was about six months old when she appeared on this track, cooing and crying. Natalie MacMaster thanks everyone who has made her music possible and the audience for coming out to listen. The melody is very lovely and I actually get a lump in my throat when I hear Natalie MacMaster express how much she loves music and thank God for her baby girl.
I really like Yours Truly. It's a nice mix of very exciting and interesting fiddle playing combined with a few slower, more introspective pieces. This is a nice album to play in the morning or perhaps as background music at a dinner party. I might even exercise to this if I were so inclined to haul my butt out of my computer chair. I would recommend this album to people who like Celtic instrumental music or those who just enjoy listening to music that has a style of its own.
Natalie MacMaster's Web site: www.nataliemacmaster.com